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Aldermen Press Pause On Tax Break For Little Village Warehouse On Old Crawford Coal Plant Site

Opponents of the development testified that diesel trucks brought by the warehouse would increase air pollution and exacerbate respiratory illnesses.

A rendering shows what the distribution center will look like.
Hilco Redevelopment Partners

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DOWNTOWN — Aldermen delayed approval of a tax break for a massive distribution center in Little Village Tuesday after opponents said the already-approved development would pollute the environment.

The City Council approved the $100 million plan to transform a former coal-fired power plant into a 1 million-square-foot distribution center in September.

Attendance – Chairman Proco Joe Moreno (1), Greg Mitchell (7), Patrick D. Thompson (11), David Moore (17), Willie B. Cochran (20), Howard Brookins (21), Michael Scott Jr. (24), Walter Burnett (27), Milly Santiago (31), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35), Gilbert Villegas (36), Emma Mitts (37), Tom Tunney (44), John Arena (45)

Developers told aldermen the new center will add 178 full-time jobs to the city’s Southwest Side and 360 temporary construction jobs. It was approved over the vehement objections of nearby residents and environmental groups, who turned up again at Tuesday’s meeting of the Economic, Capital and Technology Development Committee.

If the tax break is approved, the property would be assessed at 10 percent of its market value for the first 10 years, 15 percent in the 11th year and 20 percent in the 12th year.

Little Village Environmental Justice Organization Executive Director Kim Wasserman-Nieto testified that more than four trucks pass 31st Street and Pulaski Road every minute, and said that increased air pollution from diesel-fueled trucks will exacerbate respiratory illnesses, particularly among the 8,000 students attending school within a mile of the planned center.

Colleen Smith, the legislative director for the Illinois Environmental Council, said taxpayers should not be on the hook “to perpetrate more environmental racism,” and said she was “alarmed” at how much the process so far has conflicted with what the Little Village community wants.

Aldermen agreed to hold off on the measure.

“I know that community has been facing serious contamination issues for decades and don’t think it’s fair to approve project that is not so clear,” Ald. Milly Santiago (31) said, and asked that the item be held in committee. Aldermen agreed unanimously.

Muñoz signed a letter of support for the tax break, but has not been at City Hall since was charged with misdemeanor domestic battery, and entered rehab in Indiana for alcohol addiction.

Muñoz has resisted calls to resign from his political mentor, U.S. Rep. Jesus Chuy Garcia and Michael Rodriguezwho is his pick for 22nd Ward alderman. The other candidates in the race have also called on Muñoz to step down.

Betty Torres Muñoz said the alderman struck her during a fight on New Year’s Eve.

In September, Muñoz said the benefits of the project outweigh the critiques, and he wanted “a neighborhood where people can walk to good-paying jobs.” The alderman said he consulted with Little Village environmental groups and took their concerns — aired at two community meetings — into consideration.

Representatives from Hilco said the warehouse would strive to protect the environment by recycling 90 percent of demolished materials, exceeding the requirements of the city’s stormwater ordinance, planting 600 trees and installing electric car charging stations.

Aldermen also confirmed an appointment and reappointment to the city’s Community Development Commission, which oversees the city’s tax increment financing districts.

The committee recessed last week over Ald. David Moore’s (17) objection to former Ald. Latasha Thomas’ appointment (A2018-153).

Moore questioned whether she’d use her seat as a fundraising tool for her still-active committee and pointed out that a recent transfer of $31,000 from her old Democratic committeeman committee to her aldermanic committee.  

Records filed with the state board of elections did not show Thomas ever logged the transfer. She corrected it late last week.

“If the question is whether I will use this appointment to raise political funds, then my answer is absolutely not,” Thomas said, adding that Moore asked that she transfer the $31,000 to him when he ran.

Moore rebutted that, expounding that as the former treasurer for the 17th Ward Democratic Organization he “raised all those funds” and said Thompson “never had control,” of them. He said he asked former 17th Ward Ald. Terry Peterson for the transfer.

As other aldermen shook their heads, Ald. Leslie Hairston (5) interrupted Moore to ask why there was a political conversation occurring during a committee meeting – “Is this a committee on economic, capital and technology development meeting? … Move due pass.”

The committee also approved the reappointment of Eileen K. Rhodes as member of Community Development Commission (A2018-154).

A Class 7b tax break for Lakeside Bank worth $1.7 million won unanimous approval as well. Local Ald. Patrick D. Thompson (11) provided letter of support and said he was excited to see a site that had been vacant about 30 years be redeveloped.