HYDE PARK — Some Hyde Parkers have turned against a 13-story tower proposed for their neighborhood, dubbing it the "53rd Street Strangler."
Nearly 100 neighborhood residents gathered earlier this week at Augustana Lutheran Church, 5500 S. Woodlawn Ave., to discuss tactics to stop the the project at 1330 E. 53rd St. proposed by Mesa Development and backed by the University of Chicago.
Many in the audience were concerned that 267 new apartments and 30,000 square feet of retail space will cause traffic nightmares on 53rd Street and put stress on neighbors trying to park on the surrounding blocks.
“The project is moving along very, very quickly and if there is to be a response from the community, it would have to come together very, very quickly,” said Tom Panelas, who lives one block from the project site and is one of the leaders of Citizens for Appropriate Retail and Residential Development.
The group is proposing a petition and letter writing campaign to derail the project and stop it from getting the necessary zoning change before construction can begin.
“It’s really up to Ald. [Will] Burns (4th), and he’s said he wants to listen to the community and he thinks the community wants this,” said Robin Kauffman, one of the organizers.
Burns did attend the meeting, but arrived at the church near the end and declined to address the crowd. He referred questions from reporters after his meeting to his office staff. Prentice Butler, a spokesman for the alderman, said Burns clearly laid out his support for the project in a column in the Hyde Park Herald and would not comment further.
Representatives from the development team also attended the meeting but declined to comment.
The project is backed by the University of Chicago, which owns the gas station and vacant lot that make up most of the site. The university has been instrumental in many recent real estate developments on 53rd Street, giving up land for an office tower and funding the redevelopment of the Harper Theater.
Though these projects have been alternately praised and panned in the neighborhood, the attitude of the crowd on Monday was that the university was playing too dominate a role in the development of the neighborhood.
“It’s pretty clear the university has a vision for change and this is a choke point where we say, 'Is this the change we want to see?'” said Paul Baker, the head of a neighborhood theater troupe.
U. of C. officials did not immediately respond to requests to comment Wednesday.