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Slugging It Out In Historic East Village

You’ve seen the signs around the East Village neighborhood north of Brady Street: No Overlay District. What’s it all about? It’s a long story. Plans for a “conservation overlay district” to preserve the historical character of the old worker cottages in the East Village has been under discussion as early as 1999. There has been a long and arduous process of getting input from neighborhood residents and crafting a set of guidelines. This process has been spearheaded by the East Village Association (EVA), a non-profit neighborhood organization. In July of this year, the Currents reported on a movement in the neighborhood taking exception to the overlay district (“East Village Conservation Overlay Stirs Up Controversy,” July 2004). The Conservation District Opposition Group (CDOG) distributed a flyer in opposition to the plan. CDOG’s concern at that time was that “a small group” was making “laws to govern an entire neighborhood,” according to Jill Bondar, whose name was listed on the flyer as the contact person. The 10-year-old EVA usually has about 25 paid members out of 600 households in the neighborhood. The group meets regularly and distributes its monthly newsletter door-to-door. According to EVA President Lisa Christopherson, the conservation district had regularly been on the agenda for the past two years. An important goal of the conservation district, said Christopherson, was to “prevent willy-nilly development” like the big condos along the river on Humboldt Avenue. Most recently CDOG has issued a statement suggesting that the EVA and Alderman Mike D’Amato were involved with “slick political maneauvers” with regard to the conservation district regulations. Although the regulations stipulate that “no properties can be divided or combined in the East Village,” the statement asserts that Ald. D’Amato “mandated…that all city-planned developments must be exempt from the requirements of this overlay district.” In particular the statement refers to two developments involving the acquisition of city-owned properties. One was planned by Brady Street developer Julilly Kohler at 1152-1158 E. Kane St., and another proposed by Humboldt Avenue resident Jim Metz for the southeast corner of Humboldt Avenue and Kane Street. The Currents reported that Ms. Kohler presented plans for her development to the EVA in 2003 (“Proposed ‘Green’ Development to Overlook the River at E. Kane Place,” April 2004). “We support her plans,” said Shirley Ferguson, then-president of EVA. “She would actually be living there, not just trying to develop the property to make money off it. She would have a stake in the neighborhood.” Mr. Metz also presented his plans to the EVA. According to the April, 2003 East Village Association Newsletter, “Mr. Metz has been accommodating with design concerns and other issues presented to him.” The debate continues. The various goals — of the neighborhood to preserve their history and character, of developers to create something new, of the City to increase their tax base — sometimes conflict and sometimes converge. It is hoped that the best intentions of honorable people will prevail.
by Jan Christensen