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Hyde Park Residents Sue to Stop 13-Story Tower on 53rd Street

By Sam Cholke | October 1, 2013 8:53am
 Crews removed gas tanks last month in preparation for construction of a 13-story apartment complex on 53rd Street.
Crews removed gas tanks last month in preparation for construction of a 13-story apartment complex on 53rd Street.
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Mesa Development

HYDE PARK — A group of Hyde Park residents is fighting to stop a development on 53rd Street — including filing a lawsuit — charging that it is too large and wrong for the neighborhood.

In the suit, members of Citizens for Appropriate Retail and Residential Development argue the zoning change necessary to build a 13-story tower at 1330 E. 53rd St. was done in an arbitrary and capricious way.

“Arbitrary and capricious means the zoning ignores the scale and character of the old zoning or the old use,” said Michael Scott, the lead plaintiff in the suit, which was filed in August.

The current property is a decommissioned gas station and car wash between one-story and  three-story buildings on the western edge of Hyde Park’s 53rd Street commercial strip.

“Our chief concern is that it’s the wrong building,” Scott said. “But part of that is it’s the wrong building because the process was bad.”

Scott said he was driven to file the suit to stop the 267-unit building because the University of Chicago, the property owner, and Ald. Will Burns (4th) were unreceptive to his and other residents’ concerns.

Burns countered: “Look, the community asked for development and retail on 53rd Street, and that’s what we’re bringing them.”

Scott admitted that the community has gone through an extensive planning process for developing East 53rd Street with the university and the alderman over the last five years.

“They are able to hear that we want some density and retail on 53rd Street, which is true,” but the alderman and university have failed to hear objections to the location, Scott said.

The planning process focused on areas east of the proposed high-rise as more appropriate for higher density development, he said.

If the suit is successful, the property will return to its previous zoning, which allows for buildings of similar scale as the surrounding blocks.

The parcel was rezoned in June, and the old gas tanks removed last month in preparation for a March groundbreaking of the apartment building and retail spaces.

“I understand that lawsuit has been filed, and since our company isn’t a part of that, I can’t comment,” said Jim Hanson, principal of Mesa Development, the developer hired by the university to redevelop the parcel.

On Sept. 27, the university asked to intervene in the suit, and Cook County Circuit Judge Kathleen Pantle is scheduled to review the motion Friday.

The university’s head of commercial real estate, James Hennessey, declined to comment on the lawsuit at a Monday community update on development projects, but told residents that the university has and will continue pay taxes on the property.

As a nonprofit, “You have to occupy and be a tenant on the site to be exempt,” Hennessey said.

Scott’s action is the second lawsuit over the university’s moves to develop 53rd Street.

Residents also are attempting to derail a university-led drive to overturn a liquor ban for chef Mathias Merges’ planned Yusho restaurant at 1301 E. 53rd St. Though many involved want to see the restaurant opened, they are taking action as a protest against the community planning process.