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Little Box Ordinance in Andersonville?

By Matt Wood in News on Oct 10, 2006 1:37PM

chicagoist_200610_aville.jpgNow that it's cool to live in Andersonville again, some local politicians are mulling over a proposed ordinance that would ban chain retailers and restaurants from opening up shop in designated business districts and historic neighborhoods. The idea is that by freezing out the Starbucks and Borders of the world, hoods like Andersonville can retain their charm by favoring places like the Kopi Cafe and the Women and Children First Bookstore. The ordinance hasn't yet been introduced to the City Council, and if it were to pass, qualifying neighborhoods could opt in or out of the so-called "formula retail" ban.

Obviously this opens up a whole smelly can of worms over theories of property rights and city planning. The Tribune spoke to some landlords who thought the ban would restrict their ability to attract tenants most able to pay the rent and help cover their taxes, a.k.a. the big chains. Then they spoke to some purists who wanted to defend the neighborhood's pedestrian-friendly, Swedish charms. Controversy ensues, yadda yadda yadda, and eventually one side will call the other fascists.

In a recent "Law & Order" episode about a property dispute in which a megaretailer called Idealmart (stand-in for Wal-Mart, Home Depot, et al) uses some legal dirty tricks to win the rights to buy a valuable piece of land in Brooklyn, Fred Thompson says to his new assistant DA, "Companies like Idealmart don't end up in Staten Island." Companies like Starbucks and the Gap don't get locked out of the city's coolest neighborhoods, and we'd be willing to bet that as long as Andersonville stays desirable, they'll figure out a way to either block this ordinance or get around it if it passes. In the interest of avoiding all the foot-stomping and protests, how about a compromise like restricting storefront design and signage? We've seen neighborhood covenants like this work in other places (including a McDonald's in Germany that we didn't even know was there until we smelled the fries), and it could retain neighborhood character while still giving property owners the freedom to pick their tenants. This is by no means the only solution, and we expect readers to offer other suggestions. Just keep the name-calling to a minimum.