...And That's My OpinionŠ
By Sandy Goldman
The Rogers Park Community Curmudgeon
Civil War in Rogers Park
There is a civil war brewing in Rogers Park. Oh, not like the great American civil war in the 1860s, nor the fierce Spanish Civil War of the late 1930s, nor even the one in the Balkans of current times.
This one is more like the Hatfields and the McCoys, Shakespeare's Montagues and Capulets, or the Jets and the Sharks of West Side Story. This one is between the New Rogers Park Community Council (RPCC) and the Rogers Park Community Action Network (RPCAN).
It seems that the New RPCC through it's economic arm, the Rogers Park Development Corporation (RPDC) currently has a mandated 1/2 of 1 % interest in the partnership position of the ubiquitous Jay Johnson (Urban Residential Management and Cornerstone Investment Group) to build a senior citizen project at 1528 West Morse Avenue. The official name is Urban-Morse Partnership LLC. Other partners, past, present or future, remain unknown, at least publicly. The mandated part is a requirement that a for-profit company partner with a community not-for-profit in order to receive government funds (it is one of the financial strategies used at Gateway Plaza).
The developers have acquired the building at 1528 W. Morse, plans have been submitted and approved, various beginning and completion dates have been announced; additional financing has been arranged through the sale of tax credits (a financing method which may be the subject of a future column).
So far, so good - fait accompli. Done!
Well not quite - now comes a rub. The City of Chicago - Department of Housing (DOH) has established a policy requiring that all affordable housing projects receiving city funding must include parking. The solution for the developers was to acquire the property of Charles Variety Store, which was for sale. Charles Variety once was a glorious and important spoke in the wheel of commerce in Rogers Park and Morse Avenue. Economic changes, demographics, age and despair had turned the once proud street into a shell of its former grace and Charles Variety Store was one of its victims. It was decided by the developers (along with the 1/2 of 1% agreement of the New RPCC) to use the property for parking spaces for both the residents, visitors and the offices of the RPCC, the RPDC and any other commercial renters who might come along in the future. A plan was unofficially promulgated and to include some auxiliary off street parking. Official plans, currently pending, also include closing off the alley west of 1528 Morse for open green space.
Now somewhat late in the game, there appears to be a number of complainants (read whiners), led by Rogers Park Community Action Network. They object to the plans, the project, the parking lot and the open green space. In their opinion, there was a lack of community input and inappropriate action by Alderman Joe Moore (49th). Some neighborhood residents, fearful for their persons and personal properties, object to such a large open space; albeit gated, lighted and protected by security cameras.
So it appears the war begins. But actually the war has been waged for several decades. Many long-time members of the original RPCC will remember that in the middle of 1970s, a RPCC Board member and a yet to be elected Alderman, petitioned the Board of Directors to form a Tenants Committee to agitate vigorously for tenant rights using the philosophy and activism expressed by Saul Alinsky in his book "Rules for Radicals" (there's a study for you young folks!!)
It was decided by the Board of Directors of the Original RPCC that the Council was in fact already accomplishing those ends in a less strident and non-confrontational manner through its city funded Housing Resource Center.
The petitioners left and formed the Rogers Park Tenants Committee (RPTC) which following some difficult times eventually became the Rogers Park Community Action Network (RPCAN).
Through the years the Original RPCC was falsely labeled as an organization of homeowners, accused of fostering gentrification (although the word had not yet been invented). It was also accused of attempting to eliminate low income residents because the Original RPCC opposed Four + One housing construction and the proliferation of group homes and health care institutions. Additionally they opposed the increasing numbers of both Federal and CHA subsidized housing units, particularly in over-concentrated census tract 101 (North of Howard); and because they helped prosecute buildings with code violations, poor maintenance and bad management in housing court.
The RPTC (and later RPCAN) on the other hand, saw themselves comparable to the defenders of the Charles Bridge in Prague in 1648. As it was for those who successfully defended the bridge and repelled the enemy, their reward would be control of an area (Rogers Park) to develop according to their ideological vision.
And so to these two organizations are racing down the road, like a scene in Ben Hur; two speeding chariots, wheels clashing and whips snapping.
One says rain - the other says snow,
One says yes - the other says no,
One says stop - the other says go,
One says red - the other says blue
One says old - the other says new.
I suppose it all depends on one's own view.
...And that's my opinion.
And I'm Sandy Goldman
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