The Council’s Zoning Committee approved Chairman Danny Solis’ (25) request to downzone a nearly eight acre parcel of vacant land in Pilsen after residents said they were worried they wouldn’t get a say on what kind of development would be built.

Attendance: Chairman Danny Solis (25), Vice Chair James Cappleman (46), Proco Joe Moreno (1), Sophia King (4), Anthony Beale (9), Raymond Lopez (15), David Moore (17), Walter Burnett (27), Deb Mell (33), Tom Tunney (44)

The ordinance the committee approved rezones a vacant parcel bounded by West 16th, South Newberry, South Peoria, and West 18th Streets from a Community Shopping District (B3-2) to a Limited Manufacturing/Business District (M1-2). The manufacturing designation will prohibit any residential development from being built on the site without a thorough community review process and corresponding zoning change.

Chairman Solis asked for the downzone, according to DNAinfo, because the site developer refused to comply with a zoning rule in Pilsen that mandates any residential project must include at least 21% affordable units. The developer, Noah Gottlieb of Property Markets Group, had originally planned a 500 unit apartment building for the site, then said he’d build something smaller that wouldn’t require a zoning change in order to completely forgo the affordable housing requirements.

At yesterday’s meeting, Chairman Solis argued that he still thinks residential, not industrial, is the best use for the property and that the zoning change was meant to prove a point. “Sometimes what the community needs, and what the community wants, isn’t exactly what a developer is proposing,” he explained. Solis said he wasn’t closing the door on the proposed developer or any other developer who wants to build on the site, but rather, he was addressing the needs of the residents he represents. And those needs are more affordable housing in Pilsen.

Thirteen people signed up to testify on the project, eight of them in favor of Solis’ zoning change. But all sides seemed to agree on the same point: residential units should be built on the vacant land, eventually. Opponents argued changing the zoning would delay that development, leaving a blighted, and sometimes unsafe vacant lot undeveloped. Proponents said they wanted more time to decide what should be built, and that any new residential building planned for the area must go through a “thoughtful community process.”

Michael Grill, an attorney for Holland & Knight, testified against the zoning change on behalf of the developer, saying Pilsen’s commercial corridors would benefit from more density. “They need more residents living in that area who can spend their good, hard earned dollars on the good businesses that we have along those streets, so those businesses can continue to provide good jobs in this neighborhood,” he said.

“It’s strange to me that if the purported reasoning behind changing this is to provide more affordable housing–which is a laudable goal–changing it to an industrial use simply will not provide more affordable housing in this area,” he added, urging Solis to work with his client to bring a project that complies within the existing B3-2 zoning.  

Vincent Cook, an attorney representing the property owner, The Midwest Providence of the Society of Jesus, also testified against the zoning change. “We feel that the current residential zoning is a perfect use for that neighborhood, and we feel that a change to light manufacturing is not the best use of that property,” Cook said, adding that his clients are still interested in working with Solis toward a solution.

Most of the residents who supported the zoning change said they were lifelong residents of Pilsen and expressed worry that they would soon be priced out of their neighborhood if the zoning remained intact. Nineteen-year resident Walcolda Reyesargued that the site has remained vacant for more than a decade because no developer has brought forth a plan that “provides the community benefit that we believe is what needs to happen there.”

Julio Paz, whose family has been living in Pilsen since 1948, agreed. “We need time to find the best plan for that parcel of land. The community’s character, vitality, and culture are under threat.”

“I would like for all parties to work together,” Chairman Solis said before calling for a vote. “This is a strategy that not only I, but other aldermen have used, and if you look at the history, and if you look at the record of my ward and other wards, you’ll find that sometimes doing this gets the message across.” The zoning change passed unanimously.

Ald. King Receives On-site Affordable Housing In Two South Loop Projects

Newly appointed 4th Ward Ald. Sophia King also did her part to make sure two South Loop projects made a last minute change to allow on-site affordable units. Zoning Attorney Rolando Acosta said his client, developer Keith Giles, agreed to make 10 of his 320 units affordable for his proposed 26-story residential tower at 1136 S. Wabash, which is currently a surface parking lot. The developer originally wanted to buy out of the affordable housing requirement. Giles will instead enroll those units in the Chicago Housing Authority’s voucher program.

Oxford Capital Group, the developer behind a plan to rehab the Essex Inn and build an adjacent 57-story residential building, also agreed at the request of Ald. King to add on-site affordable housing. The developer’s attorney, Paul Shadle of DLA Piper, said his clients will make a $2.02 million payment to the affordable housing trust fund, in addition to providing on-site units. He didn’t mention the number of units.

“Affordable housing is a responsibility that the whole city should share in all parts of the city,” Ald. King argued.  

Ald. Moreno Rejects Plan Because It Lacks Affordable Housing

Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1), who often grandstands on affordable housing issues on the floor of City Council as he faces intense scrutiny in his ward about gentrification concerns, voted against a project in the neighboring 32nd Ward for its lack of affordable housing.

There have been protests in recent months, including one along the new 606 trail, calling for more affordable housing in Wicker Park, Bucktown and Logan Square. The project Moreno rejected calls for the construction of three, four-story residential buildings for a total of 76 units. None of the units will be made affordable. The developer, Mark Kozlowski, has chosen to make an in lieu payment of $800,000 into the affordable housing trust fund.

Moreno took issue with not only the in lieu payment, but also local Ald. Scott Waguespack (32), who he did not mention by name: “We have elected officials that say they support affordable housing and CHA and don’t build them on site.” Moreno and Waguespack also faced off over on-site units at the massive redevelopment at the Lathrop Homes.

“I know I sound like a broken record on this, but it continues and continues to happen.”

Chairman Defers Public Building Commission Appointment

At the start of yesterday’s meeting, Zoning Chairman Solis announced he’d be deferring the appointment of David Whittley to the Public Building Commission, but didn’t explain why. He did  allow the committee to approve another appointment: Albert D. Tyson III to the Plan Commission.

Tyson was previously on the PBC and his vacancy would have been filled by Whittley. Tyson spoke for less than a minute at yesterday’s meeting, mostly to say that he was honored at the opportunity to serve on the Plan Commission. Ald. Walter Burnett (27) and Ald. Anthony Beale (9) said Tyson is a good fit for the land use board because of the development work he’s had a hand in on the city’s Near West Side.

Historical Landmark Designation for Old Town Gets Pushback from Residents  

Twenty-one people testified on a proposal to designate several residential buildings on West Burton Place as historical landmarks, 14 in support and seven against. The buildings are part of the Old Town Artist Colony, a group of 12 buildings and five coach houses, which were remodeled between roughly 1920 and 1940 by a group of artists, including Edgar Miller and Sol Kogen. The landmark designation would protect the buildings’ exterior elevations, as well as select walls, fences, gates and sidewalks, from alteration or demolition. The properties include 150-160 W. Burton Place and 143-161 W. Burton Place.

Matt Crawford, a representative with the Department of Planning and Development, said the designation would protect and highlight the unique character of the neighborhood. “The artist colony that developed here became the home and workplace of numerous prominent artists and architects of national and international stature for over eight decades,” he said.  

The buildings are already listed on a national historic registry and the effort to landmark the area has been in the works since 2007, according to Ald. Burnett. The effort to make the residential block a Chicago landmark ramped up last year after a developer bought one of the buildings with the intention of demolishing it. But as the city’s Landmarks Commission began drafting the boundaries of the landmark district, several property owners reached out to Burnett asking that their buildings be excluded. The Landmarks Commission agreed with some of those requests. Only 12 of the 18 buildings in the area are included in the proposed designation, Burnett said.

One property owner who had made that request but wasn’t excluded from the designation, Penny Kurston of 143 W. Burton Place, called the entire process unethical gerrymandering. She said realtors and real estate attorneys told her the designation would have a negative impact on her insurance rates and property value. Kurston’s 12-year-old daughter testified at the meeting and relayed the trouble the family went through to get Ald. Burnett’s attention on the issue.

Ald. Burnett said he did make an effort to get her property out of the designation, but the landmarks commission denied the request. He then accused an unnamed resident of being “really aggressive on stalking” him and other commissioners on the landmarks committee.

“The last time she saw me, I was like ‘I may have to do a restraining order against you’, because she followed be all the way to my car,” Burnett explained, saying she also followed commissioners to the bathrooms, their offices or homes.

“After I just got hit by somebody, you know, I was like you better stay away from me, because I’m not ready to get hit again,” he joked, referring to a man who punched him outside his ward office two months ago.