I am writing to advise you that I am asking my colleagues at the City Council meeting on Wednesday to approve an ordinance to “downzone” the property at 2321 W. Howard (southeast corner of Howard and Claremont) from its current zoning classfication–C2-1–to its previous zoning classification–B3-2. The City Council almost always defers to the wishes of the local alderman on zoning and land use matters.
The property was once home to a Burger King drive-thru restaurant. The Burger King closed several years ago and the property has been vacant ever since. You may recall I hosted a community meeting in January, 2011, to review a proposal to develop the site as a Penske Truck Rental franchise. The applicant,Vincent Rizzo, proposed converting the old restaurant building into offices for the rental facility and landscaping and fencing the perimeter of the property. The proposal required a zoning change from B3-2 to C2-1, which allows for a higher intensity commercial use.
Of the 40 or so neighbors who attended the meeting, the vast majority supported the proposal as an improvement over the existing vacant lot. The 49th Ward Zoning and Land Use Advisory Committee, a committee of neighborhood residents who advise me on all land use issues, also recommended I support the proposal. The applicant proceeded to apply for a zoning change and the City Council in April, 2011, voted to change the zoning based on my recommendation.
Since then, Mr. Rizzo has done nothing to move forward with his proposal, other than to park several rental trucks at the site. Mr. Rizzo and his son periodically clean the lot and cut the weeds but only under pressure from my office and my ward superintendent, Greg Wagner.
Finally, after Mr. Rizzo failed to respond to my repeated requests to develop the property as promised, I introduced an ordinance in the City Council last September to change the zoning back to its original B3-2 designation. On the day of the City Council Zoning Committee hearing on my proposed zoning change, Mr. Rizzo presented to me a signed construction contract for the site and architectural drawings. He assured me he had worked through some financial issues and would develop the site as promised beginning in the winter, weather permitting.
At my request, the City Council Committee on Zoning approved my ordinance to change the zoning. But based on Mr. Rizzo’s representations, I asked the chairman of the committee to refrain from bringing it to the City Council for a final vote.
Of course, nothing has changed and Mr. Rizzo still has failed to develop the property as promised. Last month, Mr. Rizzo finally acknowledged to my staff assistant that he no longer has the financial ability to make good on his promise and was attempting to sell the property. Accordingly, Mr. Rizzo has left me no choice but to ask the City Council to approve my downzoning ordinance, which I fully anticipate will occur on Wednesday.
Until Mr. Rizzo sells the property, I will insist he refrain from parking trucks on the property and pick up the litter and cut the weeds on a regular basis. If he fails to do so, I will ask my ward superintendent and the appropriate city departments to take any and all measures necessary to enforce the law.
I also will search aggressively for other potential developers for the site. If you have any interest in developing the property for a good use or know of anyone who might be interested, please reply to this e-mail or call my office at 773-338-5796.