Strong Towns member Max Mulvihill recently sent us a letter that Brendan Reilly, an alderman in Chicago, had written to his constituents. Reilly emailed this letter to his constituents on April 7 to update them on a large proposed development project that would contain hundreds of units of housing, hotel rooms, retail and timeshare. The letter begins:

The intersection and plot where the new development would be built. Doesn't look terribly congested to me... (Image from Google Earth)

The intersection and plot where the new development would be built. Doesn't look terribly congested to me... (Image from Google Earth)

Dear Neighbor:

I am writing to provide an update regarding Symmetry's recent community presentation of their development proposed for Wabash & Superior.  Based upon my review of their mixed-use proposal and its related traffic impacts on the immediately surrounding neighborhood, I have informed Symmetry that I will not support their Planned Development Application. As such, their current proposal, or slight variations thereof, will not move forward.

Based on the significant negative feedback my office has received expressing concerns regarding potential traffic impacts and the multiple uses (and intensity of uses) proposed for the site, I took the time to re-read the Developer's traffic study, cover-to-cover.

He goes on to outline the concerns expressed, which mostly relate to traffic: The alley adjacent to the property might get too busy with an influx of cars loading and unloading. The streets around the building would undoubtedly become congested with cars and buses:

We also registered numerous concerns related to existing traffic circulation (or lack thereof) in the immediate neighborhood. Having observed the (poor) functionality of Superior Street during the afternoon and evening hours - the vehicular traffic on that street is currently reduced to one lane, eastbound on a routine basis. It is fair to assume additional curbside activities like taxicabs, Uber, limousine service and party buses will spill over onto (virtually non-functioning) Superior Street and exacerbate an already-untenable condition.

The poor traffic conditions on Superior Street and conflicts with potential usage of the public alley for ingress/egress to the site are compounded by the congestion resulting from pick-ups in the western-most southbound traffic lane at the Frances Xavier Warde School on the west side of Wabash Avenue. 

There are also valid concerns about the intensity of the multiple uses on the site. Symmetry's proposal would call for a 725-foot tall, 60-story tower containing 216 hotel keys, 120 timeshare units, 246 condominium units and roughly 30,000 square feet of retail at-grade. This combination of uses suggests heavy volumes of deliveries, curbside pick-up/drop-off, special event traffic and buses. It's simply too much for this block.

He concludes by stating that he will not support the proposal and encourages the developer to either decrease the amount of uses planned for the site or scrap the project altogether. 

As Max Mulvihill wrote in his email to us: "What kind of world do we live in that cannot support a super dense mixed-use tower in downtown Chicago? One that only values high speed traffic flow that nearly kills neighborhood residents on a daily basis!"

But don't forget: As with any conversation about new developments, there's also a concern about loss of parking. The Chicago Architecture blog reports that neighbors at a community meeting got sincerely riled up about the potential loss of parking that might come with this new building. So parking and congestion are both at risk here. Heaven forbid!

Rather than risk a few more cars on a neighborhood street or a few less parking spots, it appears this Chicago alderman and the neighbors he represents would rather keep the existing tax base generated by a half empty parking lot and a low-level building. This is the same tired fear of change we see in neighborhoods across the country—a fear of change that blinds people to the potential for including new residents, businesses and visitors, all of whom would contribute financially to the area.

It remains to be seen whether the alderman's actions will be enough to halt the project (where big developers and investors are concerned, I'm betting it won't be), but he has shown his colors aptly here.

(Top photo of downtown Chicago by Steven Vance)


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