Friday, June 29, 2007

Maintaining urban blight – Commercial Neglect at Damen and Rogers.

The condition of the Damen/Rogers commercial strip shows how Alderman Joseph Moore and his 49th Ward staff and volunteers seem like inept bureaucrats. The Alderman's office has been on notice for many years about 7308 N. Rogers. This dilapidated commercial area sits less than a block from the Pottawatomie Park Playground. What kind of an example does this streetscape offer to our children, the community, or visitors? It is definitely a poor benchmark for a future Alderman.

If there is no ordinance defining commercial blight, then Chicago Aldermen should enact one. If violations persist, then Aldermen are obligated to better manage and work with city services to overcome neglect. They can encourage citations to eliminate these neighborhood challenges. Alderman Moore can encourage Ward groups to embarrass landlords. He can issue PSAs to try to ‘bring in’ the media. Eventually, the Law Department can condemn and encourage eminent domain and forfeiture against reckless or negligent land owners. After years in office, both Aldermen Moore and Stone should act together to condemn a land trust; they can overcome commercial urban blight like that at Damen and Rogers. Chicago has a Law Department and Moore once worked in it.

Faded pepto bismol pink paneling hangs precariously from loosening screws. The decaying wood façade with jutting a la carte nails remain despite the Jamaican restaurant’s demise nearly two decades ago. BTU is knotted and hanging between warped and inoperable water stained wooden shutters and rotting window panes. White paint flakes detach into the wind. Pedestrians pass within inches of the edifice on the adjoining sidewalk. Someone recently dumped a computer desk on the weed infested squares that surround the rotting facade. The pink walls are occasionally touched up with ‘Graffiti buster white’ square accents.

The telephone number 773-851-4365 glares at the street as if to taunt neighbors to complain. This is a disconnected Nextel number. Another exchange, 773-539-4287, claims to be the number of the management company that orchestrates this opus of urban blight. The phone number rings, but there is no voice mail to leave a message. The management and owner seem to have little interest in seriously attracting long or short term tenants.

I believe that there is a mentality in the 49th Ward Offices that forces residents to endure real estate blight and mismanagement. We are now in our third year of numerous complaints; Alderman Moore’s staff continues to provide ‘lip service’ and vague claims of action through Cosgrove, Land, and Company. This dilapidated store front at Damen and Rogers remains in my neighborhood along with the Pulse ER and van Storage facility just west. 7308 is just one example of horrendously unmaintained real estate that is tolerated by Alderman Moore, City Services and questionable political and union leadership. Yes, civil servants are unionized, but should do their jobs out of committment, not because a union steward told them so.

Some of us get reasonably upset at inattentive civil servants and politicians, when we live in neglected neighborhoods. Those landlords who are responsible cannot remain ‘bulletproof’ from municipal prosecution and condemnation. A local bar called “The Ho” graces the east end of the Damen/Rogers strip. The bar is barely a quarter block from the Pottawatomie Park Playground. The bar’s next door Laundromat hosts dim flickering fluorescent lighting and a dank atmosphere to encourage laundry day procrastination. Of course, the rest of the strip is vacant other than Summit Grocery Store which features cigarettes and lotto tickets. What appears to be a struggling Jamaican diner is just north on Damen. Yet, even that storefront has been the host to many unsuccessful restaurants in need of an anchor business.

We don’t need ‘blue lights,’ we need someone who cares whether it is our alderman or a landlord it makes no difference. Alderman Moore may have ‘cared,’ but he seems more interested in promoting McDonalds or Starbucks. Of course, he has attacked geese husbandry and big retailers that flourish outside Chicago, but ignores the calling to revive neglected 49th Ward neighborhoods.

Rogers Park land banking and arguably predatory businesses are often undertaken by those with little personal stake in a ward. The owners, often suburbanites, ask for unreasonable rent, interest, or retail prices, which causes Class D properties to further decay. He, perhaps she, may let this commercial property at Damen and Rogers further disintegrate. The now polluted, but once distinct art deco store front has an artificial seediness that distracts and depresses ward locals.

Summit Grocery deserves a better home, but its landlord has little interest in cleaning off the peeling Jamaican National Crest that crowns its store front. Rather than encourage the tenant to comment about the inconsiderate landlord, effective pressure from City Services seems conspicuous by its absence. The City is without an reasonable agenda to eliminate urban blight or encourage whistle blowers. I await Alderman Moore’s campaign posters ‘wheat pasted’ onto the fading pink paneled wall during the next run off. Perhaps, the unnamed owner has already made a Moore campaign contribution.

This cityscape does not foster a feeling of safety among those who visit or pass by. You have to live in the area and think that you know Rogers and Damen like the back of your hand to spend evenings on these sidewalks. They say that if you act like you belong and ignore those you do not know, people leave you alone. However, if you walk like you just entered the Green Zone in Baghdad, then you invite curiosity, anywhere, and look like you belong in the suburbs. I see people pass this place in suits, which seems out of place, to some, but they live in the area, as well. When a commercial nuisance is this ‘out of place,’ it raises attention and scorn towards those elected officials that we end up supporting with taxes and votes.

Yet, if commercial property is neglected in Rogers Park, people shop elsewhere, which included the nearby Evanston Target. If Moore was so concerned about the Targets, Walmarts, and Sam’s in Evanston and Niles, then he would create enterprise zones and ensure that these zones were reasonably developed with businesses that neighbors will use. Moore seems to coddle those who prefer to pay into his campaign, even outsiders. Maybe, he believes that the locals fear a new alderman more than their inattentive incumbent. Moore, do your job, so that we can appreciate why you should to be our Alderman. Otherwise, go back to private practice, because your advocacy and legal prowess is not working with us.

Again, Alderman Moore et. al., if you really care about making life better for those in the forty-ninth ward, then start with those things that you can control, rather than being controlled by those things that are out of control. There is no excuse for inaction over long periods of time. There is no need to get upset with your neighbors and ignore them. As it is said, think globally, act locally.


Craig Gernhardt said...

Very good post. Thanks for the research and legwork on this problem. I'm going to link this one up to the Broken Heart.

lafew said...

Go ahead, as stated, a neighbor nearly blew a gasket with Moore over this one. Moore's staff allegedly called or e-mailed him after the election. The staff member promised that Moore would handle it. No news yet from the 'funny company.'

Hrothgar said...

Yes, we have wondered what is up with this hellish eyesore and very much appreciate you taking it on! We tried the number on this building to no avail. Thanks to you we now have a renewed interest in getting something done about this property.Sadly, we have been just walking by this for years. We have put up with this blight way too long. The word on our street is the owner is Moore's buddy, obviously,so what shall our recourse be? To be continued...

lafew said...

First, I don't know that it is anything other than laziness or lack of priorities. Mike Land claimed that he was trying to get something done about 7308. There were vague words, but real no action. This makes it look like pay to prey (on the community), but there is no proof.

I hope Moore, among others are paying attention to the point of actually caring about the situation. I am beginning to doubt it. If something is not done soon on any of the issues that Craig and others have uncovered, then it is easy to simply copy a link and forward general info to the popular media.

If links of this webpage are sent to the major networks that claim inaction by Moore on this property, among others, then interest may be sparked with enough evidence. Obviously, a tour of urban blight and verification of campaign contributions paints a disappointing picture. There are other actions can be undertaken.

The newspapers and local affiliates all have e-mail to seek out public interest stories.

If the property is owned through a land trust or other source, then the only way to show that the nuisance will not be abated is to complain directly to the City at its 311 line.

Usually 311 provides a reference number for all complaints on buildings, among other issues. With enough reference numbers, it is easy to suggest that nothing will be done.

If the city will not take action, then neighbors can file an action in the Equity court to enjoin the property as a nuisance. They can also show that due diligence was taken to seek relief from Chicago.

If the property is run by a land trust, then the bank that controls the trust is sued in its capacity and shareholders are discovered in discovery.

If the Alderman is really getting funds, it can be determined once the owner is known, since the contributions are easy to trace.
What I know is what was posted. I believe that Moore probably

lafew said...

First City of Chicago Reference #: 0701187315

Reported to Ms. May on Saturday
6/30/2007 2:58:02 PM

For those interested in keeping up with the complaint, contact 311 and add your name and telephone number to the reference number.

If enough people call and bug City inspectors, they will have to provide an eventual update. Just keep calling 311 and add your comments until it appears that Chicago will do nothing.