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NEIU a 'Neighborhood Bully' for Forcing Out Residents, Opponents Say

By Patty Wetli | June 13, 2014 10:41am | Updated on June 16, 2014 8:41am
 Bill Tong's family has owned the building at 3411 W. Bryn Mawr since 1954. They are fighting its purchase by NEIU.
Bill Tong's family has owned the building at 3411 W. Bryn Mawr since 1954. They are fighting its purchase by NEIU.
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DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

NORTH PARK — Professors at Northeastern Illinois University spoke out against the school's plans to build student housing on Bryn Mawr Avenue at Thursday's meeting of the university's board of trustees.

"I just think it's fundamentally wrong," Marcos Feldman, assistant professor of sociology, said of NEIU's proposal to use eminent domain and public money to displace small businesses and family property owners on Bryn Mawr between Kimball and Bernard avenues in order to erect student housing.

The $50 million project would be constructed in partnership with a private developer. To date, the school has acquired two of the eight properties in question, which will be demolished to make way for the dorms. The university has stated it will exercise eminent domain in the event the remaining building owners refuse to sell.

Patty Wetli breaks down the meeting and what's next for the proposed project:

Feldman was among 10 speakers given two minutes to comment during the trustee meeting. He attempted to cede his allotted time to Bill Tong, owner of an affected property at 3411 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., but ultimately read a statement on Tong's behalf.

"It's not worth holding onto a job that doesn't allow you to do what's right," Feldman told DNAinfo Chicago when asked whether he was nervous about publicly stating his opposition to the school's plans.

Brett Stockdill, chairman of NEIU's Department of Sociology, also argued against the proposed dorms.

"This is a project...if it goes through...that will put a blemish on our university," Stockdill said.

The professor said he was disturbed that the university's administration had failed to provide any environmental or economic impact studies to prove its assertions that student housing would boost commercial activity on a stretch of Bryn Mawr the school says is "blighted."

"To call it 'blighted' is kind of a stretch," said Stockdill. "All of those businesses are open. I get my hair cut there, I eat lunch and dinner at Hunan Wok."

Community members also appeared before the board of trustees to protest the housing development, referring to the university as a "neighborhood bully."

NEIU should "put its first housing on its own campus," said David Simon, echoing a position taken by many neighbors.

The school's plans do, in fact, include a 160,000-square-foot dorm on Foster Avenue on land the university already owns. Residents said they want the university to build there first and prove demand for dorms before disrupting Bryn Mawr. NEIU has said it opted to prioritize housing on Bryn Mawr to boost the neighborhood's economy.

Tong said he was insulted by NEIU's characterization that Bryn Mawr is in need of economic revitalization.

"We've been in continuous operation since 1954," he said.

"Demolition of the property where I grew up is more than a business deal to me," said Tong. "It is the physical and emotional destruction of my family's legacy, representing the blood, sweat, tears and toil of three generations and our embodiment of the American dream."

Tong's mother and sister still live in the building, with tenant income — the space is rented by the operators of Hunan Wok — providing funds to care for his disabled mom.

He said he is "prepared to retain counsel" to fight NEIU's eminent domain claim.

Garrick Beil and his mother Rosemary, who own the property at 5600 N. Kimball Ave. (at the intersection with Bryn Mawr) occupied by a TCF bank and 7-Eleven, also made impassioned pleas to the trustees.

My parents "built their property in 1970 to secure their financial well-being and future retirement," said Garrick Beil. "Leave the property owners on Bryn Mawr out of your 'Decade of Dreams' nightmare."

Of her two minutes before the board, Rosemary Beil said, "My life flashed before me."

When asked if property owners' opposition to NEIU's plan was merely a negotiating tactic to get the university to up its offer for their buildings, Garrick Beil responded: "This is not a numbers game. We don't want to sell our property."

Beil recounted the sacrifices his parents made to buy and maintain their building.

"It was five years without going out for dinner, seven years of no vacation," he said. "This is like a child for my family."

Per standard meeting procedure, trustees did not respond to Beil or any of the other speakers. A spokeswoman for NEIU said the university had no additional comment.