Ald. O’Connor Seeks to Reassure Transplants From 47th Ward at Town Hall

By Patty Wetli | Thursday, June 14, 2012

While the new ward boundaries will likely be used to determine voting precincts in the upcoming November elections, it’s still unclear when residents mapped out of the 47th Ward will find themselves completely integrated into the 40th.

“There’s not a date where they switch the light and the map is changed,” said Ald. Patrick O’Connor (40th), speaking at a Town Hall meeting held Monday night at Amundsen High School, 5110 N. Damen Ave. “For us, the issue is maintaining continuity of services.”

But attendees were less concerned about who to call for things like tree trimming than they were in learning how O’Connor governs his ward.

For those who were cheered by Ald. Ameya Pawar’s (47th) establishment of a Ward Council, it’s worth noting that although there’s no corresponding formal body in the 40th Ward, O’Connor stated that he relies heavily on neighborhood organizations when it comes to taking the pulse of his constituents. In prioritizing menu spending, for example, he solicits input from groups like the Bowmanville Community Organization for feedback on infrastructure needs.

Though he retains final say, O’Connor also brings new business and development proposals in front of these groups. All of which means that block clubs formed in the 47th Ward, such as the Winnemac Park Neighbors, will be given the opportunity to gain the alderman’s ear–as long as he’s made aware of their existence.

“I’ll meet with anybody who lives in the ward,” said O’Connor, who maintains regular hours at his office, 5850 N. Lincoln Ave. Just make an appointment. “It’s not as bad as most doctor’s offices,” he promised.

Other ways in which the 40th Ward is the same, but different: “Most of our ward we down-zoned to R-3,” said O’Connor, which allows only single-family homes or small two-flats on residential streets. Major arteries such as Western are zoned for taller structures. “We would almost never change to increase except on busy streets,” he said, “but if we did, we would get public input.”

O’Connor also has devised a way of handling liquor moratoriums (lifted for a year in two block increments) so that he can lift on one side of a street and not the other. His office is working with Pawar’s to bring that policy to the remapped sections of the new 40th. Similarly, pigeon-proofed viaducts, which O’Connor has championed along the Ravenswood Metra track, may spread south.

In terms of development, O’Connor’s update at the Town Hall on current projects may provide a clue regarding what his new constituents can expect in the future:

  • Griffin Theatre, which O’Connor wooed to Bowmanville, is finalizing permits for an 80-seat theater, part of a neighborhood performing arts center the troupe is creating at Foster and Damen, in an abandoned police station the alderman helped the company purchase for $1. A second 120-seat theater is scheduled to open in 2014.
  • Construction is slated to begin on an interactive water playground in Mather Park (California and Peterson). “It will be finished this year but it may not open this year,” O’Connor said.
  • Progress continues on the Rosehill Cemetery Nature Preserve, a pet project of O’Connor’s. The city purchased 20 unused acres (emphasis on unused) in the northwest corner of the cemetery and plans are to turn the space into a “mini Morton Arboretum.” Cemetery fencing is slated to be moved behind park property and a new Park District fence will be erected along Western Avenue.
  • Peterson Garden Project, which organized Montrose Green in Northcenter, received initial backing from O’Connor to convert an empty lot on Peterson Avenue. Of the five new gardens built by PGP in 2012, two are in the 40th Ward.
  • Along with Ald. Harry Osterman (48th), O’Connor pushed for a new Metra station at Peterson. The design will be presented in July; $10 million has been allocated for the project.

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