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Downzoning measure introduced for South Shore commercial corridor

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Ald. Leslie Hairston has introduced a measure that would reclassify the zoning on a large stretch of 71st Street

Image courtesy of Eric Allix Rogers

After a wave of recent downzoning measures swept through quickly gentrifying neighborhoods like Logan Square and Pilsen, 5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston is looking to employ the same strategy to rezone a stretch of 71st Street in the South Shore neighborhood. According to the neighborhood group Reclaiming South Shore for All, the move will reclassify the zoning along a 15-block stretch of 71st Street to allow only for the construction of new single family homes. Ald. Hairston has introduced a total of eight separate ordinances to downzone the nearly mile-long 71st Street commercial corridor.

According to Eric Allix Rogers, a longtime South Shore resident, photographer, and blogger behind the post on Reclaiming South Shore for All, the move could effectively halt new investment from prospective small business owners looking to move into the 71st Street Corridor in the South Shore. Rogers also highlights the lack of transparency and public engagement regarding the downzoning measure.

“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,” Rogers explains in the blog post. “Other neighborhood residents first learned of the proposal when [public notice] signs were posted on 71st Street during the week of April 24th.”

Rogers tells us that he doesn’t have specific knowledge on why the alderman is taking such an action but says that there should be a broader public discussion on it. “A lot of people on the southeast side are pinning crime and violence on problem business,” Rogers explains to us. “This is effectively a scorched earth policy to stop all new businesses.”

In a neighborhood that is known for its tall, historic lakefront high-rises, Rogers suggests that such a measure would not only be a deal breaker for investors and small business owners, but it could contribute to blight. The downzoning would cause many of the buildings along the stretch to be nonconforming properties and in order to open a new business in an existing commercial space, prospective business owners would have to go through the process of receiving a variance.

“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,” Rogers explains. “This is not the way forward.”