The disastrous downzone

by Gabriel Piemonte

I don’t get to spend enough time in South Shore. When I started Rainbow Market Growers with my friend Lee Bryant, I was in South Shore once a week, on Rainbow Beach, selling vegetables and Lee’s famous hot pepper preserves with that magnificent view as a backdrop. Unfortunately, the Rainbow Beach Farmers Market was a short-lived venture, and for a while, I had only been in South Shore for an occasional event at the cultural center. These days, though, I am around a whole lot more.

Of course, if you have been reading my posts, you know why – the three-neighborhood developer proposal for Woodlawn, South Shore, and Washington Park has me worried about the fate of all of our communities. Of course, we should always operate with an awareness that our communities are interrelated, but it sometimes takes a crisis to remind us of how much we depend on the health of civic and social life in our neighbors’ communities for the flourishing of our own. The mega-developer is one of these crises, although I am not going to write about that specific issue in this post. (Read about it here and here, though, if you are interested.).

The way some wards stretch across communities can further link our fates together. I have been living in the Fifth Ward for 17 years – first in Hyde Park, and for the last six years, in Woodlawn. In those years, I have learned that nothing that happens at one end of the ward is without effect in other parts. We are one fabric, stitched from the consequences of how resources are split up among us, and how we think about and talk about our shared community, the South Lakefront.

Leslie Hairston is planning on rezoning 71st Street, which is an active but struggling business corridor, from commercial to residential. No one could start a new business without spot-zoning the location they wanted to operate in. Because of the complexities of spot zoning, every new business would require lawyers, need months to get up and running, and become much more expensive to get started.

This proposal is a disaster for our entire ward. This is an admission that managing 71st Street through legally available mechanisms is not working. Intentionally zoning block after block after block of a street so that every structure on it is a non-conforming use is not sensible. I am worried that this is the best idea Hairston, who is a lawyer, could come up with. It suggests that she is basically out of ideas for how to handle the street.

Some of us have gotten together and produced a petition that captures this concern. You can find it here. Please sign it and share it with your friends. No matter where you live in the Fifth Ward, this issue should concern you. Sign the petition. Sign it. 

There are a lot of thoughtful observations about this ordinance which I will not repeat here that you can find in my previous post on the topic and on the invaluable website Reclaiming South Shore for All. In addition to signing the petition and reading these other posts, come to the Exchange Ideas on Wednesday, May 17, at 1818 E. 71st St. from 6 p.m.-8 p.m. to find out what your fellow citizens think about all of this.

This petition is a necessary step in order to aggregate our discontent. We have a longer-term problem, however, both in the ward and across our neighborhoods. Hairston’s rezoning plan is sadly in keeping with a general trend among politicians and others to make decisions on their own that really require the collective deliberation of the community. We need to bring control over community change to a much more local and democratic level. The planning process endorsed by this petition is an excellent start – we should, alongside this conversation, look at ways to correct the systemic flaws that are causing these problems in the first place.


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1 Comment

  1. Gab, thank you initiating this open dialogue. Community consensus should fuel local decisions especially as important as business zoning and housing. Ultimately, residents have the final vote not special interests.

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