Group discusses flood prevention, building project


A flood prevention program, a petition drive against a proposed five-story building and a community mural project on Elston Avenue were discussed at the May 28 meeting of the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association.

City Department of Water Management assistance commissioner Tom LaPorte said that climate change has created a new breed of storms that are "very strong, very unpredictable and local." LaPorte said that while some infrastructure improvements have been made, the city’s 100-year-old sewer system cannot handle the 2 to 3 inches of rain an hour that these storms can generate.

LaPorte said that he will go door to door with residents in an effort to encourage participation in the city’s basement flooding partnership program. "I need about 70 percent of the people on that block to say that they will pay attention and need in excess of 50 percent to participate in the downspout disconnection," he said.

City code once required downspouts to be connected to drains that carried water to the sewers, but the code was changed to require the downspouts to be disconnected because the sewer system was being overwhelmed, LaPorte said. Home owners were contributing to basement flooding by having the downspouts connected, he said.

The goal is to keep as much of the water as possible out of the sewers during heavy rains, LaPorte said. For years the city has been installing "rain blockers" which restrict the flow of storm water into the catch basins on the street because having a street flood for a few hours is preferred to having flooded basements, he said.

Under the partnership program, the department will conduct an analysis of past flooding on the block and will help residents find a contractor who will provide a group discount on flood relief measures, including planting rain gardens. The gardens consist of native plants with long roots that help absorb the rain, LaPorte said.

Those interested in the program are asked to call LaPorte at 312-742-1029.

Also at the meeting, association board member Lotty Blumenthal reported that residents are conducting a petition drive against a proposal to build a five-story apartment complex with 48 units on a vacant parcel at the northeast corner of Argyle Street and Long Avenue. The development would include a landscaped courtyard and interior parking for 51 cars on the first floor.

The association has sent a letter objecting to the proposal to Alderman John Arena (45th). The property would be rezoned to RM-5, which would be the densest in the area. The complex would be built on the site of a former storage facility for the Cowhey Materials and Fuel concrete company, and the developer for the project, American Colony Homes, originally planned build single-family homes on the site.

Arena said in an online statement that while the project would be too dense for the typical residential location, it should be given proper consideration because the site is across the street from the Jefferson Park Metra station.

"If the project were on the other side of the alley, we would not be considering it," the statement said. "But properties facing and in close proximity to the transit center should be considered for higher density when the opportunity presents.

"The area needs some density to help spur business activity in the Jefferson Park shopping district. I have been open and transparent about my economic development approach. The important part is finding ways to achieve that while holding close to the residential feel of the neighborhood. I believe we can find a balance without over building."

It also was reported that the Forest Glen Community Club is leading an effort to raise $12,000 to pay for a new mural on the walls of the railroad viaduct on Elston Avenue between Forest Glen Avenue and Leclaire Avenue. Arena plans to hold a community meeting on the project.

A mural was painted on the viaduct in 2001, but the community club decided to replace due to its fading condition. The new design, which was created by Arts Alive Chicago, depicts the four seasons and features butterflies, birds and other nature scenes.

About $2,000 has been raised for the project, and those making a minimum donation of $100 will be recognized on a plaque, according to the club’s Web Site. Donations can be made at

The meeting also included a presentation by resident Rick Nelson about the possibility of creating a homeless shelter in the community. "There is definitely the need for this," Nelson said.

Nelson said that he has provided tents for the homeless along railroad tracks near the Knox Avenue industrial corridor and that a vacant industrial property which is for sale at 4156 N. Knox Ave. would be a good location for a shelter. He said that the asking price for the parcel is $850,000 and that he has asked the Pacific Garden Mission to look into acquiring the property.

One resident said that opening the shelter would be difficult because about $2 million would have to be raised for land acquisition, building construction and initial operation costs. "There’s a lot of issues that need to be addressed," Nelson said.

For the second consecutive association meeting, concerns were expressed about an increase in jet noise over area homes since the opening last fall of a new runway at O’Hare Airport that lines up with Wilson Avenue.

A representative of the Fair Allocation In Runways Coalition asked the association to consider joining the coalition, which consists of several neighborhood groups and elected officials. The coalition wants a new runway plan which creates a more equitable distribution of flights over neighborhoods and has called for greater access to federal noise abatement programs, whose eligibility requirements rule out many Northwest Side neighborhoods.

The O’Hare Modernization Project calls for the removal of diagonal runways and for the construction of new east-west runways or the expansion of existing ones. The project will result in 85 percent of nighttime landings taking planes over the Northwest Side, according to the coalition.

The meeting also included a visit by possible mayoral candidate Alderman Robert Fioretti (2nd). Fioretti, a critic of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, saw his ward moved from the West Loop to the North Side under the 2011 remap.

It also was announced that the first "Jefferson Park Sunday Market" of the season will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sunday, June 8, at the southeast corner of the park at Lawrence and Long avenues. The market will feature a food truck, a bakery, produce and cheese vendors, and artists and crafters.

The association’s next meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 25, at the Congregational Church of Jefferson Park, 5320 W. Giddings St. The meeting will feature a presentation on home repairs.