by Gabriel Piemonte

My subject for this post is a frightening flashback, a proposal which Leslie Hairston, if she had her way, would bring back from the dead. If there is one thing I plan to prevent her from being able to do on 71st Street through my candidacy, it is this: rezoning the entire street residential. I know, if you have been following the vicissitudes of 71st Street, it sounds like I am raising old ghosts, but I am afraid to say that I am not the one bringing this bad idea up again. At our recent Fifth Ward candidates’ forum at Hyde Park Academy, Hairston clearly stated that she had come up with the idea to rezone 71st as a way to protect it, that she still thought it was a good idea, that the ordinance she had penned would die this session, and that she will re-introduce it next session.

If you live in South Shore, and you share only one of my articles, let it be this one. Rezoning 71st Street was the wackiest idea coming out of a ward office that has produced such doozies as giving people rewards for voting (a violation of election law) and stealing a mink coat from a HUD official at a party. Bad judgement seems to be in the air at 71st and Oglesby.

For anyone who thinks there may be some merit to the rezoning of 71st Street to residential from commercial, let me make a brief argument against it. First, changing zoning to a purpose for which you do not want land to be used is a basic violation of the idea of zoning. It is the sort of half-baked thinking you would expect from an amateur, not someone with 20 years on the job. Second, the effect of this would be that every new business would have to ask the alderman for permission. This gives way too much power to the alderman and opens the door even wider to graft. Who would not be tempted to offer a donation along with their request? I make other arguments in “The Disastrous Downzone,” which I wrote when this was first proposed.

Response to Hairston’s idea included a community meeting, a petition drive, and my article, “The disastrous downzone.”

But beyond what I think about the idea, it is crucial to understand that there was substantial neighborhood outcry against it when it was first proposed. An online petition was launched. A community meeting was called. A local website devoted detailed analysis to the subject in order to stop it. The business and property owners on the street were baffled and angry. And the whole mess received a lot of press until Hairston eventually backed off.

So why bring it back? I think that these forums have been frustrating to Hairston and that she often speaks out of frustration at them. Why is she frustrated? I don’t know, but that is the impression she makes. Would she in fact reintroduce this measure? We won’t know until the next session – which is after the election.

Let’s not find out. You can visit my website in order to see my philosophy about planning. The gist of it is that the community should have real power over what happens in the neighborhood – no one person should be able to trump (pun intended) the preferences of everyone else.

Twenty years is long enough to get community engagement right. Let’s give someone else a chance. Please vote for me on February 26, and let’s avoid more bad ideas being brought back from the dead.