Two vying for president of association
by BRIAN NADIG
The Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association is having a contested election for president for the first time in the 15-year history of organization.
The candidates are Bob Bank, who joined the association in 2001, and Ryan Richter, who joined in January of this year. Bank and Richter have been on opposite sides of social media debates on how to revitalize the Jefferson Park commercial district.
Retiring association president Judy Skotzko said that there is "a divide" in the 192-member group between some of the newer and older members.
Skotzko said that some of older members remember how the redevelopment of Jefferson Park was mismanaged in the 2000s, leaving the commercial district with several vacant lots. She said that those members tend to be more skeptical of city leaders and the area’s largest commercial property owner, the Mega Group, which owns several gravel parking lots and which is seeking to buy about 20,000 square feet of city-owned land at Lawrence and Laramie avenues for $1 for a proposed 39-unit apartment building.
Skotzko said that some newer members of the group do not have that feeling of distrust which residents developed for Mega and the city.
Some newer members have been critical of the association’s platform, which calls for no upzoning and the abolishment of the Jefferson Park Tax Increment District, which funds infrastructure improvements and which allows the city to condemn property in the commercial district to facilitate private development. In 2006, the city condemned several properties for a proposed 132-unit condominium building that was never constructed.
Bank, who has served as sergeant at arms, secretary and president of the association, said that that his goal as president would be to "maintain the character of the community" and that he does not accept the argument that higher density is the best way to fix the problems in the commercial district. He said that Edison Park has a successful commercial district without high density and that the existing zoning in the area is not a barrier to progress.
"The zoning is generally very generous throughout the district," Bank said. "You can put up a four-story building almost anywhere."
Bank said that the TIF district has been a failure because since it was implemented in 199,8 the area has experienced an increase in vacant lots and storefronts and that the funds produced by the district would be better spent funding schools.
Richter said that he "is a little more pragmatic" when it comes to redevelopment and that he does not believe in "absolutes" that could limit the city’s on how to revitalize the area. He said that "95 percent" of Jefferson Park always will consist of single-family homes, two-flats and three-flats but that under certain circumstances increasing density in areas near the Jefferson Park CTA and Metra stations will help attract businesses to the area.
Richter, who works as a transportation planner, said that in order to redevelop the vacant lots, the association has little choice but to work with Mega because the company appears unwilling to sell any of its properties. "The problem is we have a land owner that owns a lot of properties and that is not healthy, but he is our neighbor," he said.
Bank charged that Richter is running for president in an effort to help Alderman John Arena (45th) gain more control over the group, which has been at odds with Arena on several issues. "It’s like a watchdog group to me, looking over the politicians," Bank said of the association.
Richter said that while he and Arena share some of the same views, he is running because of his concern about the future of the neighborhood. He said that the recent aldermanic election "drove a lot of people to the organization" because one of the most debated issues was the Jefferson Park commercial district but that as president he would make sure the association would remain non-political.
Both Richter and Bank said that the association has been responsible for several successful neighborhood projects, including local farmers’ markets and an historical society and that they would work to improve how the association promotes itself.
Also running in the election are Dennis Davis, Peter Insley, Liz Jurkacek, Marie MacDonald and Eva Skowronski for three board of director positions, and Ed Irsch is unopposed for treasurer.
The election will be held at the association’s meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 30, at the Congregational Church of Jefferson Park, 5320 W. Giddings St. Only those who have been a paid member of the association for at least 3 months are eligible to vote, and candidates will be allowed to make a statement before the vote.
Half the board is up for election this year, as terms are for 2 years.