Stop the down-zoning of 71st Street!

Zoning change notification

5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston has filed a series of proposed ordinances to re-zone most of 71st Street, the commercial heart of South Shore, from a variety of zoning districts that allow retail and commercial businesses and single or multi-unit residential to only allow single-family homes. This will actively dissuade any future businesses from locating on our neighborhood’s most important commercial street.

Why is this a bad idea?

  • This will make it impossible to obtain ANY new business license on 71st without going through a time-consuming, costly process to seek a zoning variance. Re-zoning costs at least $1,000 in fees and adds at least 3 months of delay. It’s not as simple as asking for the support of the alderman; seeking a variance is a complicated legal process. This will virtually guarantee that no new businesses at all will open in the affected area – least of all small, local, entrepreneurial businesses that cannot afford to jump through these new legal hurdles. (Existing businesses that wish to expand or offer new services will also face these hurdles.)
  • The motive for this proposal appears to be to give the alderman leverage over “problem businesses” that may be linked to crime. This change will not provide the alderman with any new tools to enforce standards on existing problem businesses. Current business licenses are grandfathered in and can be renewed indefinitely.
  • No public debate, discussion, or announcement took place prior to the introduction of this proposal. Business and property owners in the affected area learned of the proposal when they received formal letters about it over the last couple of weeks. Other neighborhood residents first learned of the proposal when signs (pictured above) were posted on 71st Street during the week of April 24th.
  • This zoning change would permit developers to construct single-family homes on the vacant land along 71st, without any need to seek aldermanic or community approval. 71st Street is supposed to be a dense, walkable business district, and single-family homes would be inappropriate for the corridor. While there is probably not any plan to do this right now, this zoning change increases the risk of such inappropriate development in the future.

How does this compare to other neighborhoods?

It’s instructive to compare the proposed zoning to the zoning that exists on 71st and other commercial corridors now. Alderman Hairston wants to down-zone the blue areas in the map below from commercial/business to single-family residential. This would apply the most restrictive possible zoning to nearly the entire 71st Street corridor.

Now compare the proposed down-zoning to the existing zoning. The following maps were obtained from the terrific 2nd City Zoning website. Business and commercial zoning is blue, industrial is yellow, and green is residential. Darker shades indicate denser or more permissive zoning. Red areas are Planned Developments, which have gone through a special proposal and planning process, including community input, to build a development that would not normally be permitted by an area’s zoning.

71st Street (above) is currently zoned commercial. Jeffery Plaza was built as a Planned Development, as were the townhomes on the north side of the street near South Shore Drive. The rest currently has zoning that permits owners and tenants to obtain business licenses, as you would expect in a commercial district.

Woodlawn’s 63rd Street, once a major commercial thoroughfare, is a cautionary tale. Most of the street is subject to ill-advised Planned Development agreements. The result speak for themselves: a smattering of single-family homes, a lot of vacant land, and a mere two businesses east of Drexel. This is not a good model for 71st Street, with its terrific transit and dense, walkable environment.

A better nearby example, 53rd Street in Hyde Park has seen booming development in recent years. Nearly the entire stretch is zoned commercial – except for a couple of Planned Developments, put in place after significant community input to permit the denser Harper Court and Vue53 projects.

26th Street in Little Village is one of the most vibrant retail corridors in the city, populated almost entirely by the kind of small locally-owned and entrepreneurial businesses we would like to see in South Shore. Only the Magnificent Mile generates more in sales taxes than 26th Street in La Villita, and the entire corridor is zoned commercial.

Lakeview is one of Chicago’s most dynamic neighborhoods. Not everyone wants to live in such a congested community, and I am not arguing that South Shore should become more like Lakeview. But there’s no question that its commercial districts – along Belmont, Lincoln, Clark, Broadway, Ashland, Sheffield, and Southport – are thriving. They are all zoned for commercial use.

How will this impact new businesses on 71st?

Put yourself in the shoes of someone starting a business. You already face a lot of risk and uncertainty: what if the market for whatever you sell isn’t strong? What if you’re the first business to open on a block of vacant storefronts, and you don’t get much customer traffic? What if it takes so long to get all your licenses and pass all of your city inspections that you run out of money before you ever get a chance to open? (It happens.) What if you’re opening a restaurant or cafe (notoriously low-profit businesses, but also among those most desired by South Shore residents) and you just can’t afford any margin for error beyond your basic startup costs?

Facing all of these uncertainties, why would any entrepreneur or developer take on the additional risk of attempting to open on 71st Street? Before even signing a lease or beginning construction on a space, they would have to hire an attorney, pay at least $1,000 to the city, wait three months, and hope to be granted a zoning variance. (Note that getting a variance is not as simple as just talking to the alderman and getting permission.) This adds substantial expense and delay to the already difficult process of starting a business, and it will steer most potential new businesses away to other corridors with appropriate zoning.

This is not the way to build a thriving commercial street. We should be looking for positive tools and incentives to draw desirable businesses to locate on 71st Street. (And we should continue to use existing enforcement processes to deal with problem businesses.) Make no mistake: this zoning change means more vacant storefronts, fewer jobs, and very little chance that we’ll see any restaurants or other new businesses on 71st Street. This is not the way forward.

Take Action!

If this concerns you, contact your alderman (whether or not you live in the 5th Ward) and let them know that you are opposed to down-zoning 71st Street. Action on this proposal may be taken as soon as May 9, so time is of the essence.

South Shore neighbors may also want to join the discussion on the Reclaiming South Shore for All Facebook group, or by emailing

Other Coverage (will be updated)

Links to Proposed Ordinances

Coalition Demands a Lakeside Community Benefits Agreement


On Tuesday, July 15th, over 100 neighbors from South Shore and South Chicago gathered to demand a Community Benefits Agreement for the Lakeside Development.

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Coordinated by a coalition of organizations, a proposed CBA was presented to 7th Ward Alderman Natashia Holmes, who is supportive, as well as to McCaffery Interests, the developer.


The document details many hopes and expectations for the development, both benefits it should provide to the existing community and harms it must seek to mitigate. View a draft here. See more coverage in DNAinfo. The slide image below also has ideas if you’d like to voice your support for the CBA.



5th Ward Update on Jeffery Plaza & Urban Partnership Bank

5th Ward Meeting - June 3 2014

On Tuesday, June 3, 2014, 5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston convened a meeting at the South Shore Cultural Center to provide an update on the efforts to secure a new grocery store for South Shore, as well as on the status of the Urban Partnership Bank properties. Deputy Mayor Steve Koch and Commissioner of Planning & Development Andy Mooney were also present to speak. At least 50 South Shore neighbors were in attendance.

5th Ward Meeting - June 3 2014

Alderman Hairston opened the meeting by emphasizing that work is ongoing both to find a new grocer, and to make plans for the Urban Partnership Bank properties. She singled out Urban Partnership Bank for criticism for closing so rapidly, boarding up their building, and hiring a Bridgeport-based artist to paint it. On the grocery front, she emphasized that the recalcitrance of the owners of Jeffery Plaza is the main sticking point.

5th Ward Meeting - June 3 2014

Deputy Mayor Steve Koch spoke on behalf of the mayor’s task force addressing the Dominick’s closures. There is plenty of interest in locating in South Shore (4 grocers currently negotiating), but the plaza owners will not sell the grocery store building, and they are demanding very steep rent ($8 more per square foot than market in the neighborhood).

Koch made two significant announcements:

  • The City has allocated TIF money to incentivize a grocer to locate in South Shore (no comment on how much or from which TIF districts)
  • The City is also actively shopping other locations and properties in South Shore (including Urban Partnership properties) to potential grocers, in an effort to go around the plaza’s absentee owners

5th Ward Meeting - June 3 2014

Commissioner Mooney spoke briefly, mostly to underscore the two important announcements noted above. The Department of Planning & Development is very actively involved in this process.

5th Ward Meeting - June 3 2014

Neighbors queued up to ask a number of questions, touching on the urgency of the grocery situation, the need for public input and accountability, and the importance of developing and realizing a broad long-term vision for the revitalization of 71st Street and South Shore generally.

Future updates will be provided at the regular 5th Ward meetings – the next is Tuesday, June 24 at La Rabida Children’s Hospital.

For additional photos, click here. To read a live blog of the meeting, click here (you will need to join the Reclaiming South Shore for All group on Facebook first).

Good News in South Shore!

A number of exciting positive developments to report on this lovely Memorial Day.

1st Place plaque

The delegation from South Shore won first place at the Neighborhoods USA conference this past week!  Congratulations to Mary Steenson for drawing national attention to positive work happening in South Shore.

#onthetable2014 #southshore

Of course, those of us who live here know something special has been happening at 75th & Coles for a while.  Just a couple of weeks ago on May 12, nearly 30 people gathered at the communal picnic table for a conversation about the community. Focuses included addressing problem businesses, as well as organizing to make sure the Lakeside development doesn’t negatively impact South Shore. The conversation was part of the Chicago Community Trust‘s #onthetable2014 initiative. A great time (and great food) were had by all – stay tuned for announcements of future pot lucks at the garden this summer!

#onthetable2014 #southshore

#onthetable2014 #southshore

#onthetable2014 #southshore

#onthetable2014 #southshore

#onthetable2014 #southshore

Finally, on Sunday, May 25, the second Historic 71st Street Walking Tour took place. 26 people from around the city took part and learned about South Shore’s historic architecture and the importance of preserving what makes the neighborhood beautiful and unique. If you haven’t already signed the petition to create a Landmark District on 71st, do so now – we will be presenting it to elected leaders this week!

Historic 71st Street Walking Tour #2

Historic 71st Street Walking Tour #2

Historic 71st Street Walking Tour #2

Historic 71st Street Walking Tour #2

Lakeside Development Meeting update & video

Alderman Holmes, Alderman Pope, and McCaffery Interests held an update meeting on the Lakeside Development on May 13, 2014.  More than 100 local area folks attended, including representation from Reclaiming South Shore for All.

In our opinion, it was clearly a dog-and-pony type performance by McCaffery’s Senior Project Manager, Mr. Dan McCaffery, Alds. Holmes and Pope and a “community representative” who is involved in the project. They didn’t offer much in the way of substantive current news on progress of the project.

It was clear that none of them support the ideas promoted by the grassroots Coalition for a Lakefront Community Benefits Agreement. It looks like a business-as-usual approach between the elected officials and the private developer. For example, Mr. McCaffery said that he and the aldermen are meeting with commercial businesses, such as Target, about buying into the project. However, he said he wouldn’t name any other names, and indeed plans to keep the details secret.

Therefore, it appears that the Coalition has a very steep hill to climb to get any consideration for a CBA driven by community residents.  Be sure to let your alderman know where you stand!
If you missed the meeting and would like to view it, a video is available online and embedded after the jump.

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mural at 75th & Coles destroyed – community response needed

photo of damage courtesy Mary Steenson

photo of damage courtesy Mary Steenson

The proprietor of the business just east of Coles on 75th has not been a good neighbor.  They opposed the painting of the peace mural on the wall (the building owner gave permission), and have parked their cars on that community garden.  They have dumped grease and garbage on the garden lot as well.  After a verbal altercation between the proprietor and several garden volunteers, the mural was destroyed.  Rocks were thrown at it, cracking the plaster badly enough that it all must be removed.

We will discuss and plan a response to this incident during this coming Monday’s potluck community discussion at the garden (see the Facebook event). Neighbors are invited to join.

Keiana Barrett, who will be a candidate for 7th Ward Alderman next year, will be describing the need for a concerted community response to this destructive business (as well as another that has been identified at 76th & Coles).  For those who can’t attend, below is a summary of the actions needed.

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Reclaiming South Shore for All’s New Logo!

Reclaiming South Shore for All

We are pleased to announce our new logo!  The winning design was submitted by Arthur Wright.  We will be rolling our logo out across our channels over the coming weeks.

Arthur Wright is a South Shore resident with a background in advertising, and he has been working as an artist for at least 10 years (view his resume).  He maintains studios in Bronzeville and South Shore, and he has done major design work to assist with the ongoing revitalization of Bronzeville.  Please check him out on Tumblr to see more of his work, or connect with him on Facebook.

Arthur is available for projects, and we at Reclaiming South Shore for All recommend him highly!

Lakeside Development Town Hall Meeting – May 13

Alderman Holmes, ALderman Pope, and McCaffery Interests (the developer) will be hosting a Townhall meeting on Lakeside Development NEXT TUESDAY, May 13, at 6pm, 8233 S. Exchange.
It is our opportunity to let them know that we support a community benefits agreement that:
  • Makes it a priority to hire local residents, 
  • Provides training and education opportunities for local residents, 
  • Provides tax relief for long-time residents, 
  • Contains affordable housing for local residents, and 
  • Is environmentally sustainable and healthy. 

See our calendar for details on this event, as well as Lakeside’s next open house on August 14.