Ever since the Supreme Court decided against private property owners in Kelo v. City of New London, local governments all over the United States have returned to the task of taking properties from their current owners and giving them to developers and corporations, under the supposed justification that the new owners will do something with the property that is better for the community.
Here in Chicago, one target of eminent domain abuse is the Sportif Importer Limited bike shop at 5225 W Lawrence Avenue.
According to a recent Sun-Times article by Abdon M. Pallasch, the shop is a thriving business that has been operating in the Jefferson Park business district for 35 years.
That hasn’t stopped the city from trying to take the land. In order to keep up appearances with regard to the “just compensation” part of the Fifth Amendment, the city has offered owner Donald Zordani the grand sum of $480,000. A quick search on realtor.com finds 32 single-family homes in the same zip code that are listed for more than half a million dollars. You’d think a large lot in the business district would be worth more than a single-family home on a side street, wouldn’t you?
The city’s official explanation is that the little local business district is “blighted,” allowing the city to condemn the property so it can be used for something else. It almost looks blighted too, judging by the vacant lots surrounding the store. Of course, the reason they’re vacant is because the developer is holding them empty until he can tear down the bike shop. Then he’s going to build a seven-story condominium.
Here’s a view across the east lot from the rear:
The red brick building on the right is the Copernicus Center in the historic Gateway Theater, which is the largest theater on Chicago’s northwest side. Among other things, they hold the “Taste of Polonia” festival every year. Vice President Dick Chaney was at the festival a few years ago, and the elder President Bush visited in 1992.
The tall building visible over the top of the Sportif building is the office complex at Veteran’s square, built just a few years ago. And only about 200 feet west of Sportif is this brand new CVS Pharmacy:
I’m not saying there isn’t any blight of any kind. For example, just west of the Copernicus Center is this strip of stores, one or two of which are clearly not in use:
On the other hand, at that same intersection—about a minute’s walk from Sportif—is Hoyne Savings, which has been there forever.
And just south of that is this vibrant stretch of stores:
On the north side is this mix of old and new construction:
Further down that road is the cluster of businesses around the Jefferson Park CTA station for buses and trains. Glance down a side street and you’ll see a pleasant residential district. I’m just not seeing the blight.
Understand, I have nothing against new construction, and unlike some of the local activists, I’m not too concerned if the seven-story condo planned for Sportif’s location doesn’t “fit in” to the neighborhood. I’ve seen some of the buildings going up and I’ll admit I don’t like them much.
I think this building is pretty ugly, and if I had a say in the matter, it would never have gone up. The thing is, I don’t have a say, because it’s not my damned property.
To tell the truth, if Sportif Importer is bulldozed and a seven-story condo is built there, I won’t miss it a bit. I don’t think I’ve ever been inside until I stopped in to ask if I could take pictures inside and the guy behind the counter (who must have been Zordani himself) told me I couldn’t. That’s why I have no pictures of the inside, because I respected his right to control his property.
Too bad everybody doesn’t have that respect.
[More pictures of the threatened property here.]