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Bad Economy or Under-development?

As you walk down the streets of Roscoe Village, you can’t help but notice several vacant buildings in a neighborhood that was once booming with business, housing and development.

Some locals in the area agree that the economy is to blame for the slowdown, but one candidate running  for alderman in the 32nd Ward– which also includes Wicker Park, Lakeview and Bucktown — blames the current alderman, Scott Waguespack.

“Scott Waguespack hasn’t allowed for smart growth within the ward, and that can hurt a community,” said David Pavlik, a Democratic candidate.

Pavlik, along with Brian Gorman, Bryan P. Lynch, Peter V. Diaz and Scott Waguespack, have filed their petitions to get on the Feb. 22 ballot.

Mary Markarian, executive director of the Roscoe Village Chamber of Commerce, said despite economical harsh times, development has slowed down in a good way since Waguespack defeated longtime incumbent Ted Matlak in 2007.

“Zoning isn’t flying through as quickly as it was under Matlak’s regime. Developers actually have to make appointments to sit down with Waguespack to discuss plans,” said Markarian, who supports his administration.

Waguespack said over-development in the ward was one of his biggest challenges in his first couple years as alderman.

“Development was out of control and a difficult situation to deal with. But we were able to get a handle on it to create a fair playing field for everyone,” said Waguespack.

Ted Matlak didn’t return phone calls.

Michael Root, a real estate broker at Root Reality in Roscoe, said business was booming while Matlak was in office because he helped change the zoning ordinances for building within the ward.

He said it used to be that business developers couldn’t build within a structure previously used for manufacturing, until Matlak changed the regulations so they could be used for condos and store fronts.

Looking at Roscoe Village
A view from the neighborhood

“ [The zoning change] helped small and big business growth. It helped Roscoe grow. Now, it’s difficult to get any kind of business going,” said Root.

Root said Waguespack came into office after the economy took a hit, and it wouldn’t matter who was alderman now because the development is slow in every ward, he said.

“Credit got killed. Banks failed. Developers got scared. I don’t think any alderman has any control over what’s happened, or what will happen in this ward,” said Root.

Jamie Simone, program manager at The Wicker Park and Bucktown Chamber of Commerce, said there are several vacant store fronts in Wicker Park and Bucktown still waiting to be bought, leased or rented.

She said the development setback in the ward has a little to do with the economy — or Waguespack.

“I think both have played into the development slow down. Whatever new development that goes past [Waguespack], he makes sure it makes sense,” said Simone, who said the commerce supports Waguespack.

Lisa Piemonte, owner of Lazy Dog Antiques in Roscoe Village, said Waguespack has an interest in smaller business development in the area and shows up every month to the Belmont Avenue business meetings — something Matlak never did, she said.

“I never knew who the alderman was, until he was already gone. That just goes to show you how little he was involved in the community,” said Lisa Piemonte, who has had her business in Roscoe for six years.

Pavlik said some parts of the ward have lost their character because of over-development from Matlak’s administration, but there has to be a ‘happy medium’ between the residents, businesses and developers within the community in an area at the center of the city’s gentrification.

“There is a common ground where we can sensibly develop a ward so that we have nice new homes and businesses, without losing the integrity and character of a neighborhood,” said Pavlik.

Gorman didn’t return phone calls.

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