What Do People Say at a Landmarks Hearing?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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%.
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.
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.