The Crusader Newspaper Group

Future of 71st street in South Shore on hold

Crusader staff report

It was a plan that caused a big stir in South Shore, one that drew crowds so big, it left many standing in the hallway during an intense meeting at Bryn Mawr Community Church, 7000 S. Jeffery Ave. on Tues., May 23, 2017.

After hearing heated arguments and concerns, Alderman Leslie Hairston put on hold plans to rezone 71st Street as part of an effort to keep “bad businesses” out of the area.

Existing businesses would be exempt from the new ordinance, but new ones would have to apply for a zoning change by going through a screening process that includes community input.

The huge turnout surprised Hairston and organizers, who at times criticized the crowd for not showing up at regular ward community meetings.

Hairston said the proposed zoning change was on the city agenda before the meeting. She said she pulled the item so residents in the community could speak on the change before the city council voted on it. The proposal will now go before the city on June 22, allowing time for Hairston to help clear misconceptions about the proposed zoning change.

“I always wanted the community involved,” Hairston said. “Nothing has changed. We need to change the 71st Street Corridor around. We as a community have control over businesses that come to 71st Street.”

News of the plan spread on social media since the plans were made public several weeks ago, to change the zoning from commercial to residential, after years of urban blight on the once thriving strip that runs to Stony Island.

The plans turned a 5th Ward meeting into a raucous confrontation. While all residents wanted to restore the business district to what it once was, residents were divided on how that goal can be achieved.

Longtime property owners in South Shore are fed up by the negative impact vacant and boarded up businesses are having on their property values. At the meeting, some expressed their frustration with the proliferation of nail salons and wig shops, businesses that they feel fail to raise the caliber and profile of the area.

“I don’t want another nail salon opening next to me,” said Alicia Starks, who is building an entertainment venue that will include live jazz and a bowling alley at 7054 S. Jeffrey Blvd.

Director of Cook County Development Susan Campbell, a South Shore resident, said a similar tactic was done on 55th Street in Woodlawn and other areas of Chicago’s Wicker Park, Logan Square and Ravenswood, but she was unable to give specific dates of the zoning change.

The 71st street plan was met with heavy criticism from some business owners and residents who fear Hairston’s plan will backfire or have unintended repercussions in the area.

Beth Kregor, director of the Institute for Justice’s clinic on entrepreneurship said she’s concerned that rezoning the area will discourage good business owners from opening new businesses in the area.

Steve Salmen, who owns the building that houses Give Me Some Sugah at 2234 E. 71st Street, said he’s worried that banks turn down loan applications from business owners who are seeking to open an operation in a residential zone. He’s also concerned that the change would hurt his business.

“I will go bankrupt and my kid will not go to college,” he said. What’s going to happen is a lot of building value is going to go away.”

Hairston, who has served as the area’s alderman for 18 years, said she will do more research and tweak her plan before the next community meeting in June.


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