April 3, 2015

Vue53 gets go-ahead to start construction after prolonged lawsuit

Courtesy of Mid-America Group

According to a sign posted at the planned site of Vue53, a mixed retail and apartment building on East 53rd Street, excavation of the plot was supposed to begin about a week ago. However, construction has been stalled for more than a year by a lawsuit filed by nearby property owners concerned about the building’s scale. Earlier this month, an appeal in that lawsuit was dismissed in the developer’s favor.

The suit argued that the local property owners had been denied due process by the rezoning that allowed a 13-story building to go up on a block of mostly three- or four-story buildings. State law requires nearby property owners to be informed about challenges to zoning; the suit was dismissed because the plaintiffs did not contact some of the property owners. The appeal was dismissed on March 13.

The lead plaintiff in the suit, Michael Scott, said “I think the main reaction [to the decision] is that we’re really disappointed that we did not get to argue the merits. It would have been good to argue the substantive part of the lawsuit.”

The University has pushed projects up and down East 53rd Street, including the planned and completed portions of the Harper Court development. The completed building will be part of the 53rd Street Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district, meaning tax revenue from the building will be redirected to other nearby projects.

The plaintiffs in the suit were concerned about the impact the large building would have on the character of the surrounding neighborhood. Scott says the plaintiffs will now turn their attention to ensuring that commitments to provide affordable housing and a diverse and somewhat locally based workforce will be kept. Scott expressed hope that the opposition in this case will make similar projects less likely.

“I do think that the lesson here is that the legal battle is only a vehicle for the community discussion. It doesn’t matter so much that we lost the legal case in the end because the community relations part is so important,” Scott said.

The building will contain 267 residential units and almost 30,000 feet of retail space. Most of the luxury apartments in the building will be sold at market rate for the Hyde Park area. The University selected Mesa Development as the developer of the space. Mesa Development and the University of Chicago committed to make affordable housing available for one-fifth of the units in the building after community discussions. Mesa Development was unavailable for comment.