Monday, April 23, 2007

It's all in the timing

Posted By on 04.23.07 at 08:02 PM

On April 17 voters in the 32nd Ward went to the polls to choose between incumbent Ted Matlak and challenger Scott Waguespack in the aldermanic runoff election.

The very next day a zoning lawyer sent letters to Bucktown residents letting them know of a zoning-change proposal that, if passed by the City Council, would allow a developer to build an eight-story, 51-unit mixed-use condo complex with 248 parking spaces on the 1600 North block of Milwaukee, just north of the Coyote Building.  The condo complex would be one of the tallest buildings in the area and, as word spreads, residents are up in arms.

According to the notification sign posted at 1632 N. Milwaukee, the zoning-change application was filed on April 11, almost a full week before the election. Matlak ought to have known about it--as a matter of routine the zoning committee immediately notifies aldermen of proposals in their wards.

For his part, Michael Moran, cofounder of Preservation Chicago, doubts that the letter's timing was coincidental. "I believe they purposefully waited until after the election," says Moran. "If the zoning change surfaces before the election, it's going to be a big issue and Matlak has to take a stand."

One of the main reasons Matlak was even in a runoff was because voters were upset at him for not keeping them abreast of requested zoning changes until it was too late to mount an opposition, as happened with the Artful Dodger (PDF). If the announcement was indeed delayed purposely, it  wasn't enough to help him: Matlak lost to Waguespack, with 49.26 percent of the vote to his 50.74 percent. 

The letter was signed by Frederick Agustin, a partner of in the law firm of James Banks, one of the most prominent zoning lawyers in town and the nephew of 36th Ward alderman William Banks, chair of the zoning committee. According to Agustin's letter, the applicant is a company called 1600 North, Inc., located at 1000 N. Milwaukee.

Neither Matlak, his press spokeswoman, Rebekah Brooks, nor Agustin returned calls for comment.

Waguespack says he will ask alderman Banks to hold off on approving the change until the area's two leading organizations, the Bucktown Community Organization and the Wicker Park Committee, get to hold public hearings about it. "I haven't had a chance to see the proposed building; I just learned about it myself," says Waguespack. "I'd hope they wouldn't try to push it through."

There's at at least one council zoning committee and one full City Council meetings before Waguespack gets sworn in on May 21. After Matlack won, Waguespack told reporters "we took out the machine." In the next few weeks, we'll see if the machine gets in one last jab.

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