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Alderman wants another reprieve from landscaping, fencing edict

If Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th) keeps this up, he might as well move to repeal Chicago’s landscaping ordinance.

For the third time in four years, Reboyras wants to give businesses a two-year reprieve from the costly landscaping and ornamental fencing requirements imposed by former Mayor Richard M. Daley.

The twice-revised deadline was June 15, 2014. If the City Council goes along with Reboyras, the goal posts would be moved yet again — to June 15, 2016.

Reboyras could not be reached for comment on the landscaping reprieve he introduced at Wednesday’s City Council meeting. His ordinance blamed the “national economic downturn affecting small businesses.”

Two years ago, Reboyras argued that businesses struggling to survive the prolonged recession should not be forced to choose between trees and employees.

“They have to have ornamental fencing. They have to pave existing parking lots. If a lot is over 24,000 square feet, they have to put in a sewer system. That’s very expensive,” Reboyras said then.

“I’m trying to keep some of these small businesses open. We’ve already had a few close down because of a cost they can’t afford. I love beautification, but we’ve probably overdone that. You have to look at practicality, too.”

Daley was a self-described tree-hugger who was singularly responsible for Chicago’s array of median planters and wrought-iron fences.

In 1999, he convinced the City Council to require developers to add green space, plant more and larger trees and to surround parking lots with wrought-iron fencing.

Business leaders groused about the beautification edict. Of particular concern was the requirement that both new and existing parking lots be surrounded by ivy or vine-covered “ornamental fencing.”

“It’s more or less a tax on existing property,” Alan Lev, vice-president of Lakewest Inc. said at the time.

“You have to go out and spend money you didn’t plan on and you can’t raise rents for existing leases.”

The Chicago Development Council agreed that Daley’s beautification crackdowns — on everything from strip malls and parking garages to drive-through restaurants and downtown developments — added costs to business that “cannot be justified within the rental structure…You can only charge so much.”

The mayor’s office countered that the rewrite of Chicago’s 1991 landscaping ordinance would only raise the tab absorbed by developers from 1 to 3 percent of project costs, substantially less than the 5 to 10 percent in many suburbs.

Ten years later, Daley offered to let Chicago businesses substitute plastic fences for more costly wrought-iron, but resisted calls for a blanket moratorium from landscaping requirements.

“Developers can spend a little bit on trees and keep their property clean,” he said then.

“Property owners who don’t live in the city — if you go to their homes in the suburban area or their businesses, they’re spotless. If you come in the city, why can’t you clean?. . . . Trees help the environment…This is all about cleanliness and the environment.”

It wasn’t enough to stop a City Council rebellion triggered by business complaints.

Aldermen defied Daley and approved the first in a pair of, two-year reprieves. Now, Reboyras wants to make it three.