I don't know Rich Aronson or his company, Camelot Realty. He comes across as very passionate about what he believes in. However, his passion (and ego?) appeared to override his common sense as he lectured the audience on energy issues and the benefits of his proposal. Many weren't buying what he was selling and vocalized their skepticism without regard for the rest of the audience. There was a perception that he was being condescending to the audience, which further diluted the proposal's merits. The willingness of some audience members to speak out directly to (at) him, despite the stated rules we were to follow, speaks to the emotions he stirred. That said it was not a new situation for him as his opening comments indicated he expected some level of hostility. Alderman Moore struggled to some extent with keeping order, finding himself the occasional target when he tried to refocus the audience on following the Q&A process.
I believe Aronson is correct about the following:
1. Someone is going to develop the parcel.
2. Energy costs are going to continue to rise, making green development more important and likely cost effective. Older buildings will feel the pain of not being green.
3. Lakeside living is desirable.
I believe the community is correct about the following:
1. Reduction in parking. It is a net loss to the community at large, even if the new residents are all accommodated by the garage. However, see Item 1 in my list for Aronson. Whoever develops the parcel, unless it is a parking garage, will likely reduce the overall inventory of available parking.
2. If approved, the proposal risks setting a precedent that could change the character of the neighborhood.
My take on the proposal:
I liked the green aspects but am troubled that he hasn't done enough research to even commit to specifics, aside from insulation.
I like the idea of another restaurant I can walk to and with seasonal outdoor seating.
I like the idea of mixed use residential space on Sheridan, but not to the point that we appear to be a clone of our neighbors south of Loyola.
I was concerned about the size of the building and the lack of windows on the N side, facing Shambhala. One could assume that a new building, abutting the proposed building, was anticipated in the future. If so, then let's lower the height a bit and make it smaller.
I came away with the feeling that the status of the easement is unclear and needs to be resolved before Aronson makes any more assumptions as to whether he has access. This also would be to the benefit of the local owners, who may not like what they find out but do need to know if they are in compliance with law, rule and regulation. One or both sides may be at legal risk until there is clarity about the easement. Right now I don't believe that clarity exists.
Overall - I don't think it is ready for prime-time just yet. A smaller development, even including a restaurant, would be welcome, especially if it incorporates basic green building techniques and products. I would send Rich Aronson back to the drawing board and ask him what he might envision if no variance were granted, and a middle case if he could get a variance, but not exactly what he proposed last night.
A word about the parking issue: In about 5 years, perhaps 10, many cars are going to become metal bricks with wheels. It's starting to occur with SUVs, and that evolution will be tied to energy costs. Rather than focus on how to get more and more parking, I think the emphasis needs to be on Transit-Oriented-Development (TOD) (think Loyola, Morse, Jarvis and Howard El stops as focal points), improved public transit, and alternatives like car-sharing. I have no wish to see a parking garage on the parcel, as I consider that to be wasted money in the long run. I would much rather house people than cars. Area residents are understandably concerned about an issue that affects them directly. As an occasional car renter who needs to find a spot, I can appreciate those concerns. All the same, residents need to start taking the long view rather than looking for a way to ease the pain of having a car. They will find ownership becoming much more painful as time progresses, regardless of the status of parking in RP.
A word about density: density is our friend, and TOD can help make it livable. At the same time, there can be too much of a good thing going on, which erases its benefits and magnifies its downside. When density becomes suffocating congestion we have clearly gone too far. I don't know that RP is really there, although in some neighborhoods it may be. Visionary community planning can help mitigate that. I know that there was zoning work done in the past few years, perhaps it's time to take the next step and revisit our future as a community in view of the energy and housing challenges that face us.
Aronson was right about one other thing:
We can manage change, or let it manage us. Wait too long, and we will be living the latter.