The invaluable Ben Joravsky has a report on the Chicago Reader's Clout City blog on how the Chicago City Council Zoning Committee on Friday momentarily misplaced its rubber stamp and actually voted to defer a controversial 51-unit development in Bucktown, whose approval was being engineered by departing 32nd ward alderman Ted Matlak as a final raspberry to the constituents who voted him out of office in April, largely due to supine relationship with developers.
The proposal calls for an 8-story building, with 248 parking spaces right next to the iconic 1929 Northwest Tower at Milwaukee, North and Damen. In an object lesson of how the city works, the three historic buildings that currently occupy site were magically left off the list of about 150 structures to be protected under the new Milwaukee Avenue Preservation District, approved by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks early in May. On April 11th, just days before the election in which he was to be defeated, Matlak submitted a request for a zoning change to make the development possible. The developer refused to meet with community groups, but engineered a closed door meeting with the local Chamber of Commerce to obtain their blessing. Those living near the project did not receive the required public notice of the developer's intentions until one week after the April 17th election. Oh, and the developer's attorney is the nephew of alderman William Banks, chairman of the City Council Zoning Committee.
You get the picture. Community newspapers published outraged editorials, activists such as Craig Norris of the Wicker Park Committee made as much noise as possible, but the die was cast. Then last Thursday, something unprecedented happened. Chairman Banks announced that the consideration of the resolution had been deferred, at Matlak's request. The matter is now in the hands of incoming alderman Scott Waguespack, who has pledged, according to Joravsky, to hold public hearings before coming to a decision, something Matlak never had much interest in.
Lest activists be tempted to celebrate, however, they should remember the case of the landmark Farwell Building. In January, preservationists were elated by their surprise victory when the Landmarks Commission voted against its demolition. Within in a matter of weeks, however, city insiders, awakened from their slumber, mounted a dazzling blitzkrieg, powered by equal parts pure b.s. and the rawest chutzpah, that ended in a special session where the now chastened Commission reversed itself and approved demolition with only one dissenting vote.