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Sparks fly at Wicker Park Committee's first 2013 meeting
Wicker Park Committee's (WPC) first meeting of the year, with Ted Varndell as its new President began quietly on Jan. 2, with a short discussion about a zoning change, followed by an Energy Impact presentation and the SSA#33 presentation. During the followup SSA discussion, sparks began flying.
Preservation and Development (P&D) Chair Ed Tamminga explained that owner Lyle Feinerman wants a zoning change for the 1702 N. Damen building. Currently it is zoned M-1-2, which is a manufacturing zoning that does not permit retail. To be competitive in the market he needs appropriate retail zoning.
Though the request came to P&D for a C.1.2, the committee recommended a B.3.2 zoning. The difference between the two zonings is usage. Under the B zoning, the owner would need to have a special use permit for certain types of businesses. That means the owner must go to the Alderman with that request and the Alderman could better monitor the type of business going in the space.
The vote posed to WPC members was to vote for or against a B.3.2 zoning. The vote was 13 for and 0 against. It was learned at the meeting that the posting on the building is now for a B.3.2.
Rob Geltner of Energy Impact Illinois (EII) explained that owners of single family homes, buildings with two to four units and almost all townhouses are eligible for up to 70% rebate on air sealing and insulating costs through a government program. This stimulus program is scheduled to end in five months but Geltner said that the hope is that it will be continued.
The first step is to get a home energy assessment. Contractors have become certified and will do assessments, that normally would cost several hundred dollars, for $99. In fact, if someone will invite others over for a "House Party," they will get their assessment free.
SSA#33 Commissioner John Paige gave a presentation about SSA#33, explaining what that organization has been doing. Questioning began with queries such as "If you don't spend the money what happens to it?"
Commission Chair David Ginople, who is owner of Store B on Milwaukee Ave. and a Wicker Park resident, explained that the money so far has carried over. Excess money can be taken away by the City but that has not happened. Money to the Commission is a sum not by line item. In some cases amounts are earmarked for a project such as the Milwaukee, Wolcott and Wood intersection that can not be expended in one year, thus causing a carryover.
Ginople further explained that future budgets will no doubt be less because they had some large carryovers from a previous year which included the Milwaukee, Wolcott and Wood intersection. Paige reminded everyone that the SSA is still fairly new and that "the City looks to SSA#33 as a model."
"We were recently recognized by the inspector general for our transparency and record keeping," said Ginople, "Much of our records are online. "
"We [SSA] are bound by same laws and requirements of any city committee. That includes ethics and the open meetings act. We are above board and open," commented Paige.
"I see the same vendors year after year after year. How do RFPs [requests for proposals] get distributed? Do you publish them….how do you expand your list," asked Varndell, who lives in the SSA District. Ginople and Jessica Wobbekind, the SSA's Program Manager explained that they put them on the website and include them in their newsletter. "How do vendors know to look for them?"
Ginople and Wobbekind explained that the vendors have to be registered with the City and they know who the SSAs are so they contact the office.
"This is the first mailing I've gotten from you guys in eight years," said Varndell. Ginople agreed that this is the first time they have made a mailing. Varndell continued, "So if you are not aware of it and a lot of my neighbors are not aware that they are paying taxes into this. Or if you are some guy up at like Western and Armitage who has been chinking in for the last eight years and the bulk of the bread gets spent within 50 yards of the bulk of the current commissioners office doors…"
Ginople said, "Teddy, that is not true and unfair." Varndell continued saying it was true and how everything could be totaled up and proven. "Start out with Open Streets, add to it what you pay for Clean Slate [street and sidewalk cleaning] and look at their schedule and you will see that the bulk is spent within 100 yards of the six corners."
Commissioners and staff said that those accusations are not true. Clean Slate is scheduled through out the district. Varndell then said he'll draw it and show them.
Ginople requested Varndell not spread false information. "All our commissioners are above reproach."
"I'm just saying where the money gets spent and the guys hang their shingles. That's all I'm talking about. Those are true facts."
Paige stepped in with "The big stuff like the trees, snow and cleaning are ubiquitous. They are spread over the entire SSA. Look at the contracts. You can go out and watch them."
Commissioner Sam Marts, an architect with his business in the District, pointed out that the snow removal contract was divided among three companies last year.
Leah Viands, WPC's newly elected Secretary who does not own property or have a business in the District, said she was shocked by how much certain things cost. She thought that the money was being spent inefficiently. Expenses for things like advertising and performance art. Wobbekind explained that the amount that went to Open Streets was not for advertising. They advertised via Facebook, Twitter and the website.
Obviously angry Ginople explained that Viands had attended one of the Commissioners' meetings and "starred holes in me as though we were doing something illegal and inappropriate. Everything we do is transparent. Teddy is on a bandwagon to undo the SSA. We all know that. We are all volunteers. We work very hard, we are very transparent, we have monthly meetings that are open to the public. The public does not come. They are on the same day of the week every month on the third Wednesday.
"My dander is up because I feel like the work we are doing as volunteers is being attacked. We do not have the ability to get commissioners. We have tried. We've solicited. We've knocked on doors. Nobody wants to devote the time. So people who are devoting time like me when, with only 6 commissioners, I attended every single meeting, I resent being attacked."
"I'd like to point out that we are doing these meetings is so that people can talk about it and express concerns," Marts said. "I'll be first to say that some things we do are horribly expensive. However, we are dealing with the City. It costs us $300 to get a permit from the city to put up a bike rack. We wish we weren't spending so much money but we are dealing with government deals. Cleanslate is required to pay living wages. So they get paid more per hour than I do. The city requires us to operate in that way.
"I am shocked from time to time about how much we have to spend but we are all dealing with $900 hammers because we are almost a semi-government agency. But here is one thing that is really, really, really exciting about this deal. This silly little group of volunteers are citizens. We are citizens deciding how these dollars are to be spent and we are wide open to have you join us."
To further answer Viands question, Ginople said, "We did not pay those artists living wages."
"For example the ad in Time Out Chicago had an incorrect date," stated Viands.
Ginople then explained that the ad was put out by the Chamber and the Chamber and the SSA are separate organizations. He indicated that whereas the SSA put some money toward the ad they had nothing to do with the execution, it was the Chambers responsibility.Varndell then asked about the relationship between the SSA and the Chamber. (See description.)
Additional questions were about the financial books. The checking accounts of the SSA and Chamber are separate.
Varndell then wanted to know about the cash flow relative to festivals. "Where does the SSA end and the Chamber begin, particularly since the two big benefactors of the festivals are Chamber Board members. So taxpayer money leaves the SSA, funds the festival which benefits the chamber does the money ever get back to the SSA?"
"No, SSAs are prohibited from making money," explained Ginople.
"But the Chamber and Chamber officers are not?"
"No, and I would concur with you, but the City does not hold the Chambers to the same fiscal and financial standards as the SSAs."
"But you could hold them to what their profits can benefit," said Varndell.
A lively conversation continued about festival funding.
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