Master of Your Eminent Domain?

By Margaret Lyons in News on Dec 9, 2007 7:52PM

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Of all the egregious things the city can do to property owners, from jacking property taxes to the current favorite, the misuse of TIFs, none seems more unfair and ripe for abuse as eminent domain.

For the uninitiated, eminent domain allows the city government to seize ownership of private property, paying the owner whatever the city deems as "market value". It's supposed to be used for the "greater public good", such as the expansion of O'Hare, turning a row of abandoned crack houses into a park, or in a current proposal, redeveloping a stretch of Lincoln Square. Because everyone who has gone to the Old Town School of Folk Music, or eaten at Chalkboard, or leisurely perused the titles at The Book Cellar knows what a shit hole Lincoln Square is.

Some the residents aren't taking this lightly. They organized a march last Wednesday, rallying outside Alderman Eugene "Mean Gene" Schulter's office chanting, "Save Lincoln Square! Save Lincoln Square!" But what to us seemed like a protest against government abuse of power was deemed by the Sun Times as a fight against turning "Lincoln Square into another homogenized pit of yuppiedom on the North Side."

Is gentrification really at the heart of this matter? If that's true, it's too little, too late because the face of Lincoln Square changed some time ago. Chicagoist spoke with Adam Robinson, manager of Chicago Soccer -- one of the businesses on the chopping block -- to get his take.

"We're not waging a 'fight against yuppies,'" Robinson said, "it's more simply a matter of the right to keep our building.

"This is a nice, quiet neighborhood which yeah, there are a few vacant buildings that could be improved. But it's not necessary to take out the entire block. There's plenty of vacant space to build upon."

When asked if they've presented an alternative plan, he replied, "We feel like there is no alternative. We either get to keep the building or we don't."

Robinson says that with the current proposal the city will buy the building at what owner Imre Hidveji originally purchased it for -- wiping out years of appreciation -- and in return they would get first dibs at renting out a smaller space on the first floor of the new development. Wow, what a sweet deal; why would they be so upset?

Schulter claims that if the community doesn't want this development to move forward, then it will effectively be killed. If you want to call Alderman Schulter and make your voice heard regarding this project, his ward office phone number is 773-348-8400, or email ward47@cityofchicago.org. But you better do it soon -- the proposal goes in front of the rubber stamp City Council on December 12.
-- Prescott Carlson

The Davis Theater -- one of Lincoln Square's "eyesores" -- by p2wy