53rd Street Tower Plan Prompts Worries About Parking

By Sam Cholke on January 31, 2013 12:44pm | Updated on January 31, 2013 3:27pm

 A rendering shows a 13-story tower for 53rd Street praised by many residents for its design.
A rendering shows a 13-story tower for 53rd Street praised by many residents for its design.
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Mesa Development

HYDE PARK — Developers unveiled plans for a 13-story tower on 53rd Street in Hyde Park — drawing praise from residents for its design but also concerns about traffic and parking.

The proposed building at 1330 E. 53rd St. will have 218 parking spaces on the second and third floors to accommodate residents of the 267 rental apartments and customers visiting the 30,000 square feet of first-floor retail.

Jim Hanson, principal of Mesa Development, said during a Wednesday meeting of the 53rd Street Tax Increment Financing District Advisory Council that “We’re trying to not add to the parking problems in Hyde Park.”

“Our traffic generation is not going to be more than is there now,” Hanson said.

Half of the parking will be for the retail and half for the apartments. The developer has exceeded the city's parking requirements for new construction.

Still, many in the audience said they believed traffic studies and consultants underestimated how many cars new residents would bring to the building, and characterized the street as congested already.

“A large number of people who use 53rd Street now don’t use cars, they walk or come by public transportation” said Ald. Will Burns (4th), challenging residents’ perceptions of traffic and offering that a comprehensive traffic study of 53rd Street could be done. “I don’t think traffic will be an issue.”

Business owners on 53rd Street applauded the project for bringing more people to one of Hyde Park’s major commercial strips.

“We really need projects like this to go forward,” said Tony Fox, owner of the recently opened Harper Theater at 5238 S. Harper Ave. “Right now, there’s about six times as many people in this room as there are at the theater right now.”

The owner of the Kimbark Plaza at the opposite end of 53rd Street from the theater also praised the project.

“I think we’re finally going to bridge that gap where we bring the west end together with the east end,” said Charles Newsome, who is also a member of the TIF advisory council. “We’ve been an island for so long.”

 Ald. Will Burns (4th) tries to assuage residents' concerns that a proposed 13-story tower will worsen traffic and parking problems on 53rd Street.
Ald. Will Burns (4th) tries to assuage residents' concerns that a proposed 13-story tower will worsen traffic and parking problems on 53rd Street.
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DNAInfo/Sam Cholke

The size and density of a 140-foot tower remained an issue for others. The building is slated for the western section of 53rd Street that maxes out at eight stories and where most buildings are two stories.

The TIF council and the University of Chicago, which owns the Mobil gas station where the tower will be built, have hosted a series of urban planning workshops over the last five years to champion density on 53rd Street.

“We’re going to get people to say density is good and use that as a proxy to build something at the Mobil site that makes many of us uncomfortable,” said Michael Scott, a resident of the 5200 block of South Kenwood Avenue.

The numerous meetings, called Visioning Workshops, also attempted to clear up many of the misconceptions about parking that residents aired at the Wednesday meeting.

“Having a building that’s a little taller allows us to get to the goals of affordable housing and some other values,” said Derek Douglas, vice president for civic engagement at the University of Chicago.

The property will set aside a fifth of the units as affordable. The developer is not required to offer any affordable housing because financing does not involve any public subsidies that would trigger such a requirement.

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