By Dermot Connolly
The Chicago City Council has approved a controversial mixed-use affordable housing and commercial development in McKinley Park, and three developers have competing proposals for a similar development in the Back of the Yards neighborhood.
In McKinley Park, two developers, Code Real Estate Partners and Hispanic Housing, plan to convert two adjacent and long vacant warehouses in the neighborhood’s Central Manufacturing District into Parkview Lofts at 2159 W. Pershing Road and Parkview Commerce at 2139 W. Pershing Road. They did not respond to questions about when construction will start.
“It repurposes buildings with strong foundations,” said Ald. George Cardenas (12th Ward), stressing the need for affordable housing in the area when the City Council approved the development with a 36-13 vote at its May 26 meeting.
Parkview Lofts’ 120 units would be available to people with incomes between 30% and 80% of the area median, from $24,950 to $74,550. Developers project monthly rents will range from $511 for a 744-foot unit up to $1,635 for a 1,600-foot three-bedroom apartment.
Parkview Commerce will have 39 market-rate residential units above individual commercial space, which officials said may be a business incubator. The combined development would have 141 parking spaces, landscaping, and places for people to gather.
McKinley Park battle
Cardenas called the development in the McKinley park areas necessary. Before the City Council vote, he urged colleagues to question claims that it is too close to the MAT asphalt plant. The plant opened in 2018 and sits about 700 feet away behind a 20-foot berm.
“Before you are prompted to read something that sometimes has no facts, I would urge you to reconsider,” Cardenas told colleagues. “This is good for the city, good for McKinley Park.”
One longtime resident who has followed the issues involving the asphalt plant and housing who requested anonymity claimed that political opponents of Cardenas are stirring up much of the criticism.
“On Archer Avenue [under the viaduct], next to Chinatown, there is a homeless encampment,” Cardenas said. “We claim and we scream that we need affordable housing. This provides that. I know there is a lot of activism here, but the neighborhood supports it.”
The council rejected a request by Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th Ward) to postpone the vote until the developer addressed environmental concerns. Cardenas said those concerns already had been “debated ad nauseum,” and the City Plan Commission approved the development earlier in May.
“This property has been vacant for decades,” said Alderman Ed Burke (14th Ward). “This is his [Cardenas’s] ward issue. I encourage everyone to support it.”
Burke noted the site is close to popular McKinley Park, with no environmental concerns raised about that location. He noted schools sit nearby too, as well as Cardenas’s home.
“None of us are opposing affordable housing,” said Ald. Byron Sigcho Lopez (25th Ward). “We want to make sure our residents don’t have to choose between their health and affordable housing.”
“I cannot be a part of putting black and brown people on environmentally hazardous land,” said Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th Ward).
“We must not repeat mistakes of the past,” Ald. Maria Hadden (49th Ward) said.
Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) said it would be “disingenuous” of him to vote against the Parkview project on an “environmental racism” basis, as he has approved developments in his ward where rich residents live close to much older asphalt and concrete plants.
“How can I vote against this when I allow it to happen to rich and white and educated constituents in my ward?” Burnett asked. “If you are going to do things, it has got to be across the board. Hispanic Housing is a strong, Latino organization. They don’t put up bad buildings.”
“We are all concerned about environmental issues,” said Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th Ward). “But the site that we are talking about is not contaminated.”
Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward) cited opposition by groups such as Neighbors for Environmental Justice for his vote against it, calling the location a “travesty for poor and working class people, primarily black and brown people.”
“We had a robust debate about this at the Plan Commission,” said Ald. Tom Tunney (44th Ward). “We have already done an adaptive reuse of a building—McKinley Lofts—that is even closer” to the asphalt plant. “This is about everybody,” Tunney said. “I would be happy to live there.”
At an outdoor press conference Neighbors for Environmental Justice held on June 10 to address the vote, Irma Morales agreed that affordable housing is needed but said, “We are not going to take poison because we are thirsty,” asserting that vacant houses should be rehabilitated instead.
Kim Wasserman, a McKinley Park resident and executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO), also blamed Cardenas and other City officials for “environmental racist land-use policies.”
Back of the Yards development
In the Back of the Yards area, the three organizations vying to redevelop the 1515 W. 47th St. site continue gathering input from residents on their different plans. The three potential developers are Back of the Yards Coffee Co., New City Redevelopment Limited Partnership, and Park Row Development. Whichever earns the right to run the project, some of the funding will come from the City’s INVEST South/West initiative launched in 2019, which pledges to spend $750 million in public funds to support developments in key areas of South and West Side neighborhoods.
Park Row Development wants to build a $19.8 million, six-story, 50-unit affordable housing development on the site at 47th and Justine Avenue, with a rooftop deck and lounge area. It would be open to people earning up to 60% of the area median average. Local non-profits could offer community programs on the first floor, which would have a restaurant and hydroponic farm.
Back of the Yards Coffee, which operates a coffee house at 2059 W. 47th St., submitted a proposal to build a $15 million, three-story building with its own coffee house on the first floor, along with a bakery and t-shirt shop. The second floor would hold Marimba Institute and offices and workforce development spaces, while the third floor would have the Somos Monos brewing company, a taproom, and rooftop beer garden.
New City’s $51.1 million proposal includes a six-story 50-unit residential building with space on the first floor for community programs. The firm also wants to redevelop the Rainbow Building at 4701 S. Ashland Ave. into a 30-unit senior housing building with retail on the first floor and has proposed other local developments as well.
Peter Strazzobosco, spokesperson for the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, said officials held a community meeting about the proposals in early June and a ward-based review process is underway.
Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th Ward) said she has held several Zoom meetings to discuss the issue with residents and wants to hear the neighborhood residents’ opinions before writing a letter of recommendation.
“I live in Woodlawn, so it is the opinions of people who live in Back of the Yards that mean the most when it comes to this,” said Taylor, declining to say which of the three she would prefer.
“The City expects to announce a winning selection next month,” Strazzobosco said.
For Back of the Yards Coffee, log on to backoftheyardscoffee.com. For Cardenas, log on to www.12thwardchicago.com or call (773) 523-8250. For the DPD, log on to www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/dcd.html. To contact LVEJO, log on to www.lvejo.org or call (773) 762-6991. For Neighbors for Environmental Justice, log on to https://n4ej.org or call (312) 883-5343. To contact Park Row Development, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Call Taylor at (773) 966-5336 or log on to www.chicago.gov/city/en/about/wards/20.html.