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The Malcontents of Polk Street Canyon

(Photo: Folio Square condo buyers who didn’t beware.)

Woe is the condo owner whose view is about to be lost to a tower going up next door. Dumb is the condo owner who buys next to a sea of empty lots and expects his view to remain unimpeded ad infinitum. However, completely unhinged from reality is an entire building of such condo owners. Welcome to the South Loop’s Folio Square.

This mid-rise building located at 124 West Polk Street overlooking an alley overlooking an empty lot eventually overlooking Grant Park is about to be hemmed in by condo towers planned for the corner of Polk and Clark. Better make that Polk Street Canyon, the title of the website set up by Folio Square residents to protest the impending towers. “Let the buyer beware” having been lost on these homeowners, why they bet their mortgages on such an ephemerally accessible view is anybody’s guess.

But bet they have, and besides the website, they’ve taken to picketing the sales office of one of the upcoming adjacent towers that will block their light and views (Terrapin Properties’ Burnham Pointe development). They’ve reached out to local Alderman Madeline Haithcock (2nd Ward), wrapped themselves in the apple-pie cloak of the Near South Community Plan, and claim in the media that they’re going to bat for “air” and “light” and “pedestrian friendliness” for all South Loop residents. Except for one problem.

They’re full of crap.

I’m all for balanced development, but last time I checked 20- and 30-story towers were the new-build norm in the South Loop. They’re arising everywhere. They’re neither out of scale nor character with what the area has become. In this case, they’re being built amid a sea of vacant land that has sat fallow for years — affording the residents of Folio Square unimpeded if so obviously tenuous views. And as for the alleged concern for “unbalanced” development and “canyoning” in the South Loop, the Folio Square protest website, very curiously, only concerns itself with the two planned towers immediately adjacent to the windows of — you guessed it — Folio Square, itself.

So forgive me if I have a hard time believing the Polk Street Canyon website is about anything more than a bunch of homeowners disgruntled that they’re about to lose their views, but to my mind their position is (ahem) transparent. They want to keep their views, but in a city where views are lost everyday, that cry won’t curry much chicken. So instead they frame their cause in grandiose terms about civic virtues and values and try to play me, and you, and everyone else they try to sell on their cause that it’s really about something more than abject self-interest.

Let’s return to reality here. These days, condo views throughout downtown Chicago are lost faster than a family of suburbanites racing across River North from the Kennedy to Navy Pier (we at Marina City are about to permanently lose most of our north view to the finally arriving development of heretofore empty lots). This is not news. This is not new. This is not specific to Chicago.

And unless you go out and buy that adjacent lot, you don’t get to say what goes there, if the owner is within their rights for what they want to build. Why isn’t Terrapin Properties changing its plan and moving its skyscraper 100 feet back from the corner, as vociferously desired by Folio Square malcontents (and as would require a hell of a lot of money in re-engineering costs)? Because they don’t have to.

I don’t get to choose who sits next to me on the bus. Or who stands next to me at the supermarket. Or who (God forbid I should ever own one) parks their car next to mine. My only remedy if I have a problem here? Move my seat/move my cart/move my car.

If they really want to keep their views, maybe the loudmouths at Folio Square should simply move themselves. I hear Burnham Pointe is gonna have some nice views.

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Michael Thaddeus Doyle

I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.

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6 replies

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  4. Polkster, considering where I live (and the trials and tribs of living with Marina City’s current condo board) I definitely feel your pain. But I’m glad to hear that their supposed moral majority is neither one.

  5. Actually, the six or seven people shown in the photo are about the only people in the building who still believe any of this crap. Unfortunately, three of them are on the condo board. But the publicity they relentlessly generate for themselves is so obviously based in disingenuous bullshit that I don’t think anybody but them is buying it anymore. It is getting to be a bummer to live in a building that’s run by zealots and is the laughingstock of the neighborhood, but this will pass.

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