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Belmont-Clark Project Survey Shows Lack of Engagement: Aldermanic Candidate

By Serena Dai | February 27, 2014 8:55am
 BlitzLake Capital Partners debuted a new preliminary design for a development at 3200 N. Clark St., the corner of Belmont and Clark, to neighbors in November 2013.
3200 N. Clark St.
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LAKEVIEW — Mark Thomas, a candidate for alderman of the 44th Ward, says a survey he conducted on a planned 11-story building at Belmont and Clark shows that residents are not being engaged enough on community issues.

Thomas launched a survey to about 27,000 ward residents last Tuesday seeking opinions on the project at 3200 N. Clark St., currently the site of a Dunkin' Donuts.

A couple hundred people filled it out, he said, and 56 percent of them didn't know when or where the project had been presented.

Developers from BlitzLake Capital started presenting the project to neighborhood groups last fall, initially showing a 10-story version to Tunney's closed Community Directed Development Council. After the project was being derided for being out of character, the company then presented a new 11-story version to neighborhood groups in November that featured a more traditional look.

 Mark Thomas, a local businessman running for alderman of the 44th ward, says a survey he conducted proves that local officials need to be better engaged with the community.
Mark Thomas, a local businessman running for alderman of the 44th ward, says a survey he conducted proves that local officials need to be better engaged with the community.
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But most of those community meetings were only attended by 20 to 30 people — far less than the number of survey respondents, proving that the current system doesn't fully represent the neighborhood, Thomas argued.

"I call it the vocal minority," he said. "You end up with people who are the most active people in the community."

The local businessman, best known for owning counterculture store The Alley, 3228 N. Clark St., says if he is elected he would use social media and the Internet more to gauge public opinion on issues facing the neighborhood.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) has historically looked to neighborhood groups as representatives of the ward's residents when seeking opinions on everything from liquor licenses to zoning changes. 

Thomas says he is opposed to the project for traffic reasons. Several of his other businesses, including Taboo Tabou and Blue Havana, were in buildings that would be torn down for the Belmont and Clark development. He recently consolidated them into The Alley store.

Bennett Lawson, Tunney's chief of staff, said that the Belmont-Clark project is still being vetted through the community before going in front of the city's Plan Commission.

He said that there will be several neighborhood meetings before the hearing, including more presentations from developer BlitzLake Capital at Triangle Neighbors, Hawthorne Neighbors and Central Lakeview Neighbors next month.

Those meetings are open to the public.

Tunney will also be planning another community meeting on the topic, but the date has not yet been set, Lawson said in an email.

Thomas said that if he were alderman, community meetings would have been made more public through notices via emails and local media.

He hopes to eventually use a site that only registered voters can access to participate in surveys, called We the People 44th.

He acknowledges that the Belmont-Clark survey could not be vetted to make sure respondents live in the ward. For now, "I'm getting people interested" in using surveys for civic engagement, he said.

The survey also showed that most respondents did not oppose the 11-story height of the building, with 37 percent finding it "extremely desirable" and another 16 percent finding it "moderately desirable." About 31 percent believed 11 stories was "not desirable at all."

Much of Thomas' survey focused on traffic. About 42 percent answered that traffic would be "extremely difficult" with loading docks on Clark Street.

Lawson said that Chicago Department of Transportation is still reviewing the project for a traffic study. BlitzLake Capital will also be submitting a traffic study as part of the planned development.