What Do People Say at a Landmarks Hearing?
 -by Lynn Becker

Excerpts from the May 5th Chicago Landmarks Commission Permit Review Hearing on the demolition of all but the facades of four loft buildings in Chicago's landmark Jeweler's Row District to allow for the construction of a new 72 story condo tower.



Alderman Burton Natarus of the 42nd ward, in which the proposed development would be located:

I know that there's a great deal of controversy concerning this review, especially in the light of the fact that there is being, going to be some restoration and a lot of changes. I am hopeful that the permit review committee with their expertise will be able to restore these conditions in terms of the standards that should be in place. I think that this is an important project from an altogether different point of view than just landscaping, and that is it will help Wabash avenue.

I don't know if you noticed or not, I was part of a movement many years ago to take down the L. I always thought the L should have been taken down and we would have had some beautiful streets. It was part of what we called the Franklin Street connector. We lost that battle with the federal government . . . But we could have done it, and we didn't. We were going to build a third level of the subway .

And so we have the L, which some people think is a landmark, and some people could be beautified, but what it's done to the street is made it dark, and it has a negative effect, not only from the standpoint of appearance, but from the standpoint of noise, and I think that what this project does is that it livens things up a little bit. It beautifies the area. It may bring a lot of people to Wabash to do business. And the reason I suppose that we have the height of the building, is that you've got to build a building tall to get away from the environment of the L.

Now everybody's concerned about Jewelers' Row, and I know that the architecture of Jewelers Row is important but there was another facet of Jewelers Row that no one seems to talk about, and that is Alicia Berg, the former Commissioner and I, when they were going to be rehabilitating the buildings and evicting people on Wabash Avenue. We called a meeting in the Palmer House of all the jewelers. And we got them all together, and the reason this Jewelers Row is because we persuaded all of them to stay, so it would be like a Jewelers Market, a jewelers craft area, so all of the jewelers would be in one spot, and then when you took your wife, you know, and looked for a wedding ring, you went to 20 places and got the best deal on the diamond.

But that was another purpose of the Jewelers Row, it wasn't just architecture. It was an economic, artisan, type concept. And so there's going to be a lot of criticism here from people who are the landmark motif or philosophy, I would imagine, but I would think we have to think of it in terms of not only landmarking, but I think we have to think of it in terms of restoring the street, and I think that's what it does.

And as far as the work that Art Institute is concerned, I'm certain that everyone has the faith in the Art Institute of Chicago to do the right thing in terms of remodeling or refacing or what have you. So I support the project. I think it will be good, and I'm trustworthy of this review committee and Brian Goecken [of Landmark Comission staff] and his staff to police this thing so that it's done right. After all, with all due respect, the landmark people were responsible for the rebuilding of the McGraw Hill building. That was very interesting, where they took apart a building entirely and they put it back together and through their policing efforts you have to have confidence in their ability to rebuild and restore various architecture features.

Oh, one other thing, one other thing. We have a big struggle throughout the city of Chicago as to where to build highrise buildings. If you talk to most of the people out in the neighborhoods, they don't want any high-rise buildings, at all. And we have to have high-rise buildings, because whether we know it or not, highrise buildings are very much responsible for our tax base, and so someone will say to me that's an artisan, why is it always money? Why do you always talk about money? The point of the matter is what we don't have very much in the way of revenue sources. Most of our income tax, if not all of our income tax dollars go to Washington, to pay for national defense and national safety, what have you, and so the property tax remains the major source of revenue that we control in terms of how we can spend remodeling the infrastructure and pay for our police department and our fire department, and what have you. This building will do that. This building will enhance our tax base.

And also, if you looked at that view from Lake Michigan, it's beautiful. If you're out on a boat and you look at Lake Michigan, and you look at the Chicago skyline, one of the first things that hits you is our beautiful skyline in terms of our highrise buildings, I don't care if you're out on the Lake, you're coming in from the South, in Indiana, or you're coming in from O'Hare field, the Chicago presence in terms of high-rise buildings located in the central city is a very, very outstanding feature. Finally, these high-rise buildings will be a source of residents coming down and living in the Loop, and the people want to live in the Loop now. They want the amenities of the parks, and the services, and what have you, and those are the people who are going to living in this highrise buildings, so it makes a very, very unique, a beautiful society.

David Bahlman, Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois

This has been a very important issue for us. We actually put Jewelers Row as a district on our list of Ten Most Endangered list this year. Our position on this project has been presented in two letters and a detailed analysis that we sent to the Chicago Department of Planning and Development on January 14th and February 2nd.

As a brief summary of those comments, we would like to make the following points. Only a small fraction of Chicago's Central Area , just 1.6% of the land area, is protected by protected by Chicago landmark district designation. Within the historic Loop area, the area we're talking about here, that area of percentage is less than 10%. .

The Jewelers Row district, which was designated by the City Council in 2003, is one of those very few protected areas. According to the city ordinance designating it as a local landmark, this district displays a distinct visual unity based on consistent building setbacks, overall design, use of building material and detailing, and in many cases, size and scale. Furthermore, the Chicago Central Area Plan, which was also adopted two years ago, strongly encourages preservation and re-use of as one of its principal development recommendations for the East Loop. To quote from this plan, “renovations and new development in the East Loop must respect its historic character and urban fabric.” The landmarks Commission's own rules and regulations state that new construction in a landmark district must respect the general size, shape, and scale of the features associated with the district.

We therefore find it difficult to imagine how a 72 story building can be considered respectful of the urban fabric of an historic, especially when all but one of the tallest structures in this district are less than 280 feet high, or about one third the height of the proposed condo tower. The Pittsfield Building setback tower is, I think between 400 and 500 feet.

We can find no instance in Chicago or the U.S. where a new building has been permitted to be constructed in a local landmark district that is so completely out of scale with the heights of the surrounding historic structures. Our research includes discussion with the Historic Districts Council in New York City, and staff planners in Boston, Denver, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, all communities where landmark districts are located in high-rise zoning districts. On a much smaller scale, we would also like to also note our concerns about the proposed curb cut on Wabash Avenue, which we feel does not respect the historic character of the pedestrian oriented district, and of the Louis Sullivan design building which is an individual Chicago landmark immediately adjacent.

Finally, and perhaps most important from the standpoint of official city policy, and this is really where this got listed in our ten most, we are especially concerned about the precedent that this project would have on other landmark districts in Chicago. As you know, one of the reasons why property owners have supported the creation of landmark districts is the protection it provides against demolition and incompatible new development. If approved, this project will send a clear message that zoning, not landmark criteria, is the only thing that matters in a Chicago landmark district. This would be shocking news for owners in Chicago's other historic landmark districts, which are located in higher-density zoning districts, including Astor Street, East Lake Shore Drive, Motor Row, Printers Row, Washington Square, and historic Michigan Boulevard District. It would also send a similar message, though to a lesser extent, to the city's dozens of residential landmark districts from Longwood Drive, and Kenwood on the south, to Jackson Boulevard and Wicker park on the West Side.

We strongly urge your committee to vote to either deny this project, or to defer a decision until the policy implications of your decision can be discussed by representatives of the city's many other Chicago landmark districts. We see this as a real slippery slope. We have no objections to the quality and the design of the building. It simply is it's placement in the middle of an historic district where the prevailing height is only about 280 feet. So we're going from 280 feet, to 800 feet.

Jonathan Fine, President, Preservation Chicago.

I'm here representing my board today. Preservation Chicago cannot support this proposal, and contrary to Alderman Natarus's presumptions, we're actually objecting on the basis of process. I found out yesterday that the reason I had not seen the drawings, and I consider myself relatively well read - I read both papers cover to cover every day - the reason I was not aware of what the design looked like is that the design has not yet been publicly released.

It has been shopped to different interest groups, and it was shopped to our organization last night, and I really appreciate you guys coming by to show us the concept, but the issue really is, why is this being rushed?

The interesting thing about is that the Trump Tower, which was not in a landmark district, which did not involve the facadectomy's or the demolition of a historic building, that process was done completely open, and has the luxury of public scrutiny for months and months and months. Yet this project, which is in a historic district, which does abut a designated Chicago landmark, by one of the finest architecture firms in the entire country that was practicing in that time, somehow this project is being fast-tracked. That disturbs me to no end. What we would recommend is that the Landmarks Commission defer this until at least next month, so there can be more public scrutiny, so this process can be the transparent process that it was designed to be. Mr. Bahlman talks about the slippery slope. I believe the slippery slope here is that when one makes, when one acts in haste, one tends to make waste.

Laura Jones, Associate Director, Greater State Street Council.

I'm Laura Jones, I'm representing the newly merged Greater State Street Council and Central Michigan Avenue Association, as well as the State Street Commission. Those three entities have a redevelopment committee, which has reviewed this project, and they've written a letter of endorsement to Commissioner Casalino which I believe is contained in your packets. I wish to reiterate part of that letter - I will not read that whole letter, that our committee applauds the manner in which Mesa is contributing to the Loop neighborhood. The residents of the 340 new units in the proposed structure will bring more 24/7 activity and life to the area, and Mesa is bringing solutions to problems that local businesses and institutions have wrestled with for years. The School of the Art Institute will finally be able to have an arrival center and the use of a dock. The University Club will be able to expand and add a squash court to its amenities and attract more members. And operations for these buildings, including trash removal will be consolidated, making that alley more functional. We have also had input from Chicago Architecture Foundation and they concurred that Mesa Development's project provides a stunning addition to the Chicago skyline. The height and density of the building will add interest and balance to the other planned developments such as Trump Tower, while preserving while preserving Wabash Avenue's historic facades and street level character. Both the nearby 55 East Monroe and the CNA building would appear less squat and monolithic next to such a structure. We are pleased to endorse Mesa's development

Bob O'Neill, President, Grant Park Advisory Council.

We supported the historic Michigan Boulevard Historic District, and a lot of other preservation projects. This project is, I think, an incredibly well though out compromise to a lot of restrictions that have been put on development downtown and a lot of those in regard to historic districts. In this case, we have the facades of the buildings, which are pretty much obliterated in their current condition. I've photographed them. The area is definitely blighted on Wabash. Those will be restored by a developer who has a strong track record of doing so just to the north at Randolph and Wabash, Not only that, but there is I believe absolutely no contradiction is having a tall, beautiful slender, elegant modern building juxtaposed near and next to historic buildings.

I think there's a precedent for that. Comparing it to Millennium Park, does it elegantly with the historic Chicago Cultural Center right in front of this - it's very visible from Grant Park and Millennium Park. Another precedent is the Hancock Tower, right across the street , Michigan Avenue , from the Fourth Presbyterian Church, and another beautiful contrast does very well. And the Hancock Tower, what it has down for North Michigan Avenue, these type of buildings will do the same for the downtown area. I think that they're incredibly important to Grant Park as well. What we have seen over the years is that more and more people move to downtown Chicago, the park is rejuvenated, it's integrated into the community, has become a Grant Park community. A lot of people want to live downtown . This affords them that opportunity, beautiful views.

I think it's a really good compromise. I think that from a historic preservation standpoint, this is a win-win situation. If we don't encourage this type of redevelopment, how are we going to finance the restoration of these historic buildings. The ones we're currently talking about have been dilapidated for decades. There are a lot of other Class C buildings downtown, office buildings, that are being renovated into condos, that have to be financed, and one of the ways you do it is connecting highrises, and encouraging more and more development downtown. Chicago is a world class city. It's becoming more so, and we need people downtown. We need them living downtown, supporting the culture downtown, the restaurants . . .

Another issue that doesn't get talked about two often with high-rises is it's very important, the environmental impact of them. The high-rise is incredibly good land use. It prevents suburban sprawl. It makes it an irresistible alternative to building out in the suburbs and far-reaching areas, rather than to live in these high-rises are within walking distance of just about anything you would need on a regular basis, or a cab ride, public transportation or biking. And I think that we really need to encourage it, and this particular project takes all of that into account and I think it addresses it very well.

And the other issue is, we like to see from Grant Park, the framing of the park, and the high-rises are very beautiful. I think when they are very tall, they're more visible, and this is another reason why we support it.

John George, attorney for Mesa Development, LLC

The only point I'd like to make is, in response to Mr. Fine's comments concerning the timing of this, this was filed, this application for a planned development was filed in November of 2004. We had met with the Department of Planning before we filed it, and since that time, we've had numerous meetings with the Department of Planning staff, with various people in the community who have asked to see this project. In addition to that, we've met with the Department of Transportation, the Mayor's office for People with Disabilities, so we have had - we're now in May, and we started back in November. We filed it in November, so this is not on a fast-track. This is a normal-track event, which has gone through all the processes that are required by the City of Chicago Department of Planning.

Leslie Sturino, South Loop Neighbors

I've heard a lot of things here that we support completely. We actually are downtown residents, and do take advantage of all the wonderful downtown area has to offer, but in our area, we have two other historic districts. One at Printers Row, and one at South Michigan Avenue. The two things that concern us, and its outline in the letter that hopefully we have in your packet, is the process, which all due respect to the excellent work that has been done by the developer. We are just hearing about this, this week. We believe that, especially when it comes to the public trust that is vested with the protection of historic landmark districts, that a certain amount of publicity and broad participation is necessary to really get everybody behind what's the broader goals of this very vital project, that is bringing people downtown, revitalizing what is in the historic district now.

We can't comment on the architectural merits of it, because we haven't seen it. We can comment, though, that we believe that unless this is designated by the City Council as a similar case to Bush vs. Gore, it could set a precedent that we would not like to see implementing similarly in either Printers Row or South Michigan Avenue, that is while we're the city of broad shoulders, we're literally building towers on top of our historic buildings. So we'd like to understand a little bit more about what that sets as a precedent, what the policy implications are, and I would echo another person's comment in this room that we respectfully ask that maybe this could be deferred a month, so that others who may not have had a chance to hear the merits of this proposal might have a chance to do so and get behind it.

Dennis McClendon, Friends of Downtown

I'm here on behalf of Friends of Downtown, a citizen based advocacy group that advocates for good planning downtown. We found out about this yesterday morning, and are a little upset about the process, but more about the precedent that would be set. We had a lot a talk today about what a wonderful place as a residential district downtown Chicago is. I certainly concur. I live downtown, myself, but it's being falsely set up as somehow in opposition to Chicago's wonderful heritage of architectural treasures that are presumably one of the reasons that so many of us want to live downtown to begin with. The folks at LPCI have already pointed out - I've prepared a map that shows what a tiny proportion of downtown Chicago is actually protected by landmark designation. The percentage when you look at the entire central area is about 1.6%.

There's no need for us to force new residential development on top of these few districts that we thought had been protected by this Commission and this Commission's own regulations that say that nothing that's out of , wildly out of height, would be approved in those districts. So I'm not sure if my letter setting this out in a little bit more detail reached the Commission in time to be included in the packets. I have a copy with me, and also copies of the map. But we believe that allowing a building three times the size of other buildings in the district sets a very dangerous precedent that we hope this committee will reject.

Craig Norris

I live in the Wicker Park neighborhood. Because of a neighborhood issue eight months ago, I jumped on the internet, and I read the Penn Central case, and the St. Bartholemew case, and when this came up, it dawned on me that these facts are remarkably similar. I think that what Mr. Bahlman is saying is true, and I think the city leadership is badly underestimating the people who are able to gather this information, and make these comparisons, and I think we might be making a mistake by compromising the integrity of this district, and I think that the general population, it might quickly be able to see that, if not immediately, than maybe down the road.

Martin Tangora

I'm Martin Tangora, of course long associated with LPCI, but I'm not speaking for LPCI. I don't want to be as polite as they were. The question before you is whether a landmark district means anything, and this case, Mr. Goecken has just argued that id doesn't, because this is a unique district where there are no criteria. There is supposed to be a 40% criterion [note: refers to a provision of the landmarks law that requires proposed changes that entail demolition of 40% or more of a designated landmarks to receive special approval from the Chicago City Council] , and I can't imagine how you believe that's not violated when the setback for the new construction is less than 30 feet.

I've seen these plans. Windows will be blinded in contributing buildings in the district to accommodate parking. A parking garage of 12 stories will be built behind the Sullivan and Holabird & Roche Gage Group which is an officially designated Chicago landmark. Louis Sullivan is the most important architect in central Chicago - I think everyone takes that for granted - and, of course, his two most important buildings here are the Auditorium and Carson's , and the two next most important buildings are the two between which this 800 foot tower will be shoehorned. On this, we will have 450 cars going into a driveway that's adjacent to his designated Jewelers building, and then the parking garage will be towering over the Gage Group - not literally the Sullivan part of the Gage Group, but the other two parts of the Gage Group are only six stories high, so this is not only in a landmark district and towering over the other Michigan streetwall district, but it's right in the heart of the most important architecture in downtown Chicago.

. . . . and then the height issue. Mr. Goecken says he's not worried about 70 story buildings in Beverly. Of course not. What I would be worried about, if this goes through, is the precedent that would allow somebody to tear down the average size house in Beverly and build an enormous house. How can you turn him down? I'm worried about the millionaires that have been coming to you for 25 years with a cottage in Old Town asking to put 5,000 square feet on top and in back - how are you going to turn them down? How are you going to tell the owners of 20 North Michigan, an eight story building that's one of the oldest in the street wall - how are you going to tell them that they can't building a 70 story tower on the back all-but-30-feet of that lot? How are you going to stop anything on the street wall or in the Jewelers Row district or any other district in Chicago if you allow this to go through? .


© Copyright 2005 Lynn Becker All rights reserved.


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