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Development a Key Issue in Race for 43rd Ward Alderman

By Paul Biasco | January 16, 2015 8:04am
 The four candidates in the 43rd Ward take questions in a debate hosted by the Wrightwood Neighbors. They are Jerry Quandt (left), Michele Smith, Caroline Vickrey and Jen Kramer.
The four candidates in the 43rd Ward take questions in a debate hosted by the Wrightwood Neighbors. They are Jerry Quandt (left), Michele Smith, Caroline Vickrey and Jen Kramer.
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DNAinfo/Paul Biasco

LINCOLN PARK — The question of development, redevelopment and how the community discusses those projects has taken center stage in the race to become the next 43rd Ward alderman.

A tiff between Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) and challenger Caroline Vickrey's over how development should be handled has entangled past aldermen Martin Oberman and Dick Simpson.

Vickrey released her vision for a community zoning board that would include representatives from each of the eight neighborhood groups in the ward as well as local business and legal experts.

Vickrey said the board would resemble those of Simpson and Oberman, but Oberman denies he had such a development process.

Simpson created the first community zoning board in the neighborhood, which included leaders selected from census tracts rather than the community groups.

Simpson said that his model is being used elsewhere, such as Ald. Tom Tunney's Community Directed Development Council in the 44th and Ald. Joe Moore's Zoning and Land Use Advisory Committee in the 49th.

Oberman, though, said he disagrees with the idea and said it could detract from the community engagement process.

"I definitely did not do a community zoning board," Oberman said. "When it comes to making a major decision, there's 60,000 or 55,000 people who live in the ward. Those organizations combined have a few hundred people."

Oberman, instead, said his process was similar to that of Smith, who has his support in the current race.

"I very consciously thought a lot about it my first year or two in office and decided not to follow Dick's model, but to do it more on an ad hoc basis," Oberman said.

Much of the discussion on the issue relates to the years-long planning process for the Children's Memorial Hospital redevelopment.

Vickrey called Smith's community development model an "ad hoc" method and said the ward needs a larger umbrella organization to act as a forum for all the neighborhood groups.

"People are concerned about the suburbanization of our ward. They are concerned about the encroachment of high-rises and the loss of character," Vickrey said in a candidate debate. "I really hope [the zoning board] is going to proactively solve this crisis."

Smith said the current process of working with the neighborhood groups and hosting community meetings has been successful in engaging the entire community.

"We have very, very strong community groups. We also have very strong neighbors," she said. 

Smith said the board would "limit the involvement of people in our neighborhood."

Jen Kramer, another candidate in the 43rd Ward race, called development — "specifically over-development" — one of the largest issues that faces the ward.

Kramer said she would like to see developers and builders work with neighbors and community organization nearest a development during the earliest stages of the project before taking the issue to the alderman.

"We love very certain things about this neighborhood and one of them is the historic preservation of a lot of the buildings and the way the ward looks and feels to all of us," Kramer said.

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