The Jefferson Park Free Press

                                                                                                              February 9, 2015

Volume IX                                                                                   News and Commentary                                                                   Issue I

By Robert Bank

“Protecting the character of established residential neighborhoods.” That is one of the first three reasons given under the City of Chicago’s Zoning Ordinance book, it’s listed on one of the first pages, under “Purpose and Intent” (Section 17-1-500). So how does adding a five floor 48 unit rental apartment building maintain the character of a neighborhood dominated by single-family homes and 2-flats?

That is a question Ald. John Arena should answer but hasn’t, and quite frankly can’t. The above mentioned action requires a zoning change to RM5, a huge jump in density compared to RS-3 zoning that dominates the surrounding area.

When the residents came to the defense of their neighborhood, presenting the Alderman with over 1,500 signatures, the Alderman turned up his nose, dismissing them, telling the presenters of the signatures that the residents signing, didn’t understand the proposal or were confused, “I don’t know what you told these people”, he said.

The petitions have a pretty clear statement on the top, right above where one signs, “Opposition to the proposed re-zoning and building of two five-story apartment buildings containing 48 units at Long Avenue and Argyle Street-45th Ward- Chicago, IL.” Whatever criticism the Alderman has of the petition collectors, they are offering a lot more information than anything coming from his office. Under growing pressure and with the attention of an upcoming election, Ald. Arena finally issued an online statement. In that statement Ald. Arena claims,



“…there is no pending proposal…” and just one paragraph later he states, “We are waiting on an updated proposal” If that isn’t double-talk I don’t know what is!

The best Ald. Arena could offer was that he had taken the neighbors’ concerns to the developer, to see if some revisions could be made.

By the way Ald. Arena, it's nice that you took the 1,500 neighborhood resident's concerns to the developer (to decide); you should be telling the developer you are taking his proposal to the 1,500 residents to decide!


Over 1,500 people signed a petition, 1,500 neighborhood residents that do not want a five floor, 48 unit apartment building next to their single family and 2-flat homes.

Again like so many projects, the residents first hear about plans after the plans have all but been voted on for approval by City Council. It is a shame that Ald. Arena, who clamors for more transparency in city government has no transparency in his own office.

Another example of Arena’s running over residents’ concerns, is when word got out about the benign sounding “Pedestrian Designation” overlay for the area around Milwaukee and Lawrence Avenues. The “Pedestrian Designation” overlay has a hidden clause allowing larger apartment buildings with less parking requirements to be built, overriding current zoning regulations when implemented near a transportation hub. Mounting pressure from neighborhood residents caused Ald. Arena to defer the City Council’s Zoning Committee hearing scheduled Sept. 4 th, 2014 and on that same day, Sept 4th, Arena FINALLY held a community meeting!

At that meeting Lotty Blumenthal asked Ald. Arena about a proposed 39 unit apartment building slated for the 5201 block of W. Lawrence, she got the Alderman so exasperated with her questions, that Alderman Arena shouted to her, “Lotty, you can come to the office and see the plans!” When Ms. Blumenthal came to see the plans the next day, she was merely shown a plat map with some areas colored in; there are no other plans to see the Alderman told her.

Yet we know there are plans because Ald. Arena with plans in hand, visited some of the neighbors, whose homes were next to or across from the proposed apartment building project. The Alderman, hoping to build support of the project seemed aggravated to find that there was no support at all for the plans, yet he quietly put forth the request for the “Pedestrian Designation” that would allow for such projects. Even after other Aldermen on the City’s Zoning Committee repeatedly suggested that Ald. Arena defer the project so that there could be more community input, Ald. Arena used his “Aldermanic Prerogative” and bullied the “Pedestrian Designation” forward.

The Alderman claims to vet developments through his Zoning Advisory Council, but offers no schedule of meetings nor who the members are.  Aldermanic candidate, John Garrido has referred to these as “Secret zoning meetings”.


Once there is a community meeting, it is run more like a Senate filibuster, with Ald. Arena talking on and on, until most of the residents eyes are glazed over, or there is so little time left in the meeting that it is impossible for their comments or questions be addressed.


The Alderman likes to say “we need to have a conversation…” what that really means is the Alderman speaks and you listen.

No matter what the opinion of the residents at a meeting is, Ald. Arena will head to his favorite platform, the internet and announce that there is widespread support throughout the community for whatever project Ald. Arena is for. On blogs such as Everyblock, the Alderman and a handful of his supporters, hiding their identities by using various aliases, will espouse the virtues of whatever project Ald. Arena is for, and they will viciously attack anyone who dares to offer a different opinion.

At a recent aldermanic debate at the Copernicus Center/Gateway Theatre, aldermanic candidate, John Garrido brought up a community meeting concerning a proposed liquor store in Gladstone Park. Mr, Garrido stated that he was told there were only 8 people at the meeting, 2 left early and the other 6 were against it. Ald. Arena, with no shame, corrected Mr. Garrido, stating that there were actually 6 people there, 2 left early and the other 4 were in favor of the liquor store. Candidate, Michael Diaz responded, “If I had a community meeting where only 6 people showed up, I would say that I didn’t do a very good job of getting the word out.”

Also at the Aldermanic debate, candidate Michelle Baert criticized Ald. Arena’s steamrolling style, citing a recent community meeting which she attended. The meeting was for a plan to remove Waveland Avenue at Milwaukee in order to extend a practice soccer field for Carl Schurz High School. In the midst of pointing out that Ald. Arena did not inform the community about the plans earlier, and surprised residents weren’t given enough time to give their opinions, Ald. Arena angrily interrupted Michelle Baert, forcing the host and moderator of the debates, Ben Joravsky, to admonish Ald. Arena twice.

Alderman Arena’s short term in office has a long term in alienating local residents and pushing forward his high density housing projects. As Alderman elect (he hadn’t even been sworn into office yet) he told residents near Berteau and Kilpatrick Avenues, “I’m the Alderman and it’s my decision” regarding a 98 unit low income housing project for 55 year olds and up, which would be built in the heart of their single family neighborhood, directly across the street from brand new $400,000 homes!

The future under a 2nd term Alderman John Arena is clear, anywhere a vacant lot or old commercial building stands, is a prime target for up-zoning by the alderman, opening the door for a huge apartment buildings and huge profit for the developer at the expense of nearby homeowners. Why does Ald. Arena side with wealthy developers who do not live in our ward? Why does Ald. Arena keep the homeowners of the ward in the dark, shielding developers and their plans through his secret Zoning Advisory Council, never publishing when the council meets, who the council members are or what was discussed at these clandestine meetings?


Click here for John Arena cartoon:




The Cheat Sheet   from Vol. II, Issue I, Feb. 8, 2005 “It’s All About the Dash (-)” and re-printed countless times. Revised Sept 8, 2009

By Robert Bank

This is the revised “Cheat Sheet”, originally from the “It’s All About the Dash” article, which first appeared in our February ’05 issue, and has been re-printed many times. The original was designed on the example of a 29,800 sq. ft. lot, which related to a specific site in the Mayfair community. The revised cheat sheet uses a 10,000 sq. ft. lot as an example, for a more simple formula. The key point is that it’s all about the dash….or more to the point, the number that follows the dash; as in B3-3.


Example:                                          Zoning classification for B3- _                                                      Example: 10,000 sq. ft. lot

Dash 1   :                        2,500 sq. ft. minimum lot area (MLA) per dwelling unit                      Allows approx. 4 apartments


Dash 1.5:                        1,350 sq. ft. minimum lot area (MLA) per dwelling unit                  Allows approx. 7.4 apartments


Dash 2   :                        1,000 sq. ft. minimum lot area (MLA) per dwelling unit                    Allows approx. 10 apartments


Dash 3   :                          400 sq. ft. minimum lot area (MLA) per dwelling unit                     Allows approx. 25 apartments


Dash 5   :                          200 sq. ft. minimum lot area (MLA) per dwelling unit                      Allows approx. 50 apartments

Formula: Lot size divided by sq. ft. minimum; for example, if the lot size was 20,000 sq. ft., you would double the above condos allowed.


The same applies for residential zoning. The density issue especially comes into play with older homes on double-lots (50ft. x125ft.), which have 6,250 square feet or more. This type property has become attractive to developers because they can be torn down and replaced with two homes. The increased density affects not just the character of the neighborhood but also parking, school overcrowding and flooding (as green space that acted as a watershed is reduced).


Leaving a home on a double-lot under R3 zoning or greater, is like leaving a freshly baked pie on the window sill with the aroma wafting under the noses of developers. Down-zoning to “current use” such as R2 would stop the destruction of homes existing on double-lots. Note the chart below:

RS1        :           6,250 sq. ft. minimum lot area required per unit        allows 1 dwelling unit on a double-lot

RS2        :           5,000 sq. ft. minimum lot area required per unit        allows 1 dwelling unit on a double-lot

RS3        :           2,500 sq. ft. minimum lot area required per unit        *allows 2.5 dwelling unit on a double-lot

RS3.5     :           1,250 sq. ft. minimum lot area required per unit        *allows 5 dwelling unit on a double-lot

RS5        :           1,000 sq. ft. minimum lot area required per unit        *allows 6  dwelling unit on a double-lot

*a variance, or slightly larger lot may allow an extra unit.


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