Have you stocked up on Webster Square apparel (and/or signage) yet? We braved the cold and dropped by the Lincoln Park High School last night to eavesdrop on the much-hyped community debate over Sandz Development's proposed development, and we weren't disappointed. Marilyn Katz of the ubiquitous MK Communications PR firm met us at the door offering pins and baseball caps emblazoned with "Yes! Webster Square," while on the other side of the foyer, the dissenting party was handing out anti-development signs and flyers rebutting the developer's claims. Inside, a near-capacity crowd listened to presentations from John Lahey from Solomon Cordwell Buenz and former 43rd Ward alderman Marty Oberman. Terms like "disinformation", "propaganda" and "glittering half-truths" were flung around so liberally, we thought we were back in the Bush era.
Somehow, the issue of Fresh Market's trucks stole the show last night. Sandz hired a traffic consultant and got Fresh Market to agree to cap truck length at 55 feet, but that didn't soothe their opponents' fears. And while it is of course understandable that neighborhood residents take an interest in increased truck traffic in a quaint residential enclave, the anti-development cadre went to some pretty extreme lengths to make their case. Oberman used a computer model to demonstrate how many maneuvers (four!) it would take a truck to back into the loading dock. One woman claimed that she had personally interviewed all of the truck drivers at a nearby Dominick's.
Also discussed was the height of The Flats, a residential building on Grant Place. The developer hopes to build 40 condos at a maximum height of 55 feet, which opponents say is too high for the street's R-5 zoning. Although most of the debate focused on quality of life issues, like truck traffic, one pro-development audience member did bring the subtext — property values — into the conversation, suggesting that the addition of condos would lower property values enough to "give our kids an opportunity to live in the neighborhood."
Pro-Webster Square people did come out in large numbers, but we'd guesstimate that they were outnumbered by the anti-development group by at least 2-1. For us, the highlight of the evening was when @properties co-founder Thaddeus Wong, who came out in support of the development, encouraged those opposing it to "open their minds." Sandz had hoped to push the development through the Planning Commission quickly and get building permits within the next month or so, but judging from the passion of the opposition, that seems unlikely.
· All Curbed Chicago Webster Square Coverage [Curbed Chicago]