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Pilsen, Little Village, Back of the Yards

As City Rolls Out Plan To ‘Modernize’ Little Village, Frustrated Residents Say They’re Tired Of Warehouses And Pollution

The draft plan fails to keep more polluters from setting up shop in Little Village, residents say.

Hilco Development Partners plan to build a one-million square foot warehouse at the former Crawford site in Little Village.
Hilco Development Partners

LITTLE VILLAGE — If the city wants to “modernize” Little Village, neighbors say it’s time to ditch the industrial buildings and warehouses that have been linked to health problems among residents.

Last week, city officials from the Department of Planning and Development laid out guidelines for future development in the Little Village Industrial Corridor during a community meeting at the Little Village Public Library, 2311 S. Kedzie Ave.

City officials presented their plan to improve transportation and set guidelines for future proposed developments along the Little Village Industrial Corridor, but some residents were frustrated that employment opportunities in the neighborhood were so linked to environmentally hazardous warehouses and factories.

In their plan, the city proposed removing the Daley Park Boat launch, La Villita Park and parcels along Kedzie and 31st Street from the industrial corridor, while adding portions along 31st and Kostner.

The removal of the parcels along Kedzie and 31st would help make way for a 1-million-square-foot wellness complex dubbed Focal Point Community Campus.

The objective is to keep the Little Village Industrial Corridor an “employment center,” improve transportation around the corridor and “incorporate best practices for new development … to improve economic, environmental and social conditions,” said Gerardo Garcia, coordinating planner at the Department of Planning and Development.

Credit: Mauricio Peña/Block Club Chicago
Gerardo Garcia, coordinating planner with the city’s Department of Planning and Development, discusses the planning timeline with Little Village residents.

The Planning department worked with the Department of Transportation, the Department of Public Health and community organizations to put together a 75-page report. The planning process for the document began in March, followed by three meetings to gather community input over the summer.

If adopted, the guidelines would be used to “manage expectations” for developers, property owners, residents and the city when reviewing future proposals, Garcia said.

Plan ‘has a long way to go’ to reflect community’s requests, leader says

Throughout the presentation, residents were quick to point out that the draft plan failed to reflect their most urgent requests — keeping more polluters from coming and further impacting the health of the Little Village community.

Kim Wasserman, executive director of Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, said residents had been “crystal clear” they were uninterested in more warehouses and trucks coming into the neighborhood.

“If this is supposed to reflect what the community wants, this report has a long way to go,” Wasserman said.

“What does it take for that to be reflected in this framework?” Wasserman asked. 

“I don’t want to spend the next 12 years fighting the Department of Planning and the city because you guys chose not to listen to us,” Wasserman said, referring to the 12-year-long struggle for residents to get the Crawford Coal Plant shutdown following a Harvard study connecting illnesses and death associated with the facility.

Credit: Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago
Residents listen to the city’s proposed framework for the Little Village Industrial Corridor plan.

Garcia said they would take back feedback and see how the department can incorporate that into the framework.

Residents said they’ve heard a lot about all of the so-called benefits that large warehouses will bring to the neighborhood — but haven’t seen them.

“When it comes to big promises of selling distribution centers with livable-wage jobs, and transportation centers, the record is terrible,” one resident said during the meeting.

Hilco’s distribution center

Before signing off on the plan, residents said they wanted to know how proposed boundary changes would impact folks living near the changing areas.

Wasserman said they didn’t want another plan rushed through, especially after City Council’s approval Hilco Development Partners one-million square foot distribution center at the former Crawford Coal Plant site. She called the center another example of how the city has given “priority to industry over community.”

The plan has angered the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization and other environmental groups, who argued the new warehouse would increase diesel congestion and have a drastic impact on the health of Little Village residents.

The Hilco site sits within the Little Village Industrial corridor.

Viviana Moreno, a community organizer with LVEJO, passionately urged the city to look for alternative industries rather than continuing to plan for more “diesel-heavy industry” in the area.

After the meeting, lifelong Little Village resident Daniel Reynoso, 40, said he was “disappointed” to learn that the guidelines — if passed by the city’s Plan Commission — would have no bearings on Hilco Partners plan to build a that warehouse at the former Crawford Plant site.

“I was under the impression that what we discussed, and what we talked about [in previous meetings] was going to be leveraged in whether Hilco development would be approved or not,” Reynoso said. “But it’s too late.”

“Some of the good things we were talking about today about sustainability, making sure it’s a green construction, making sure they come with a livable wage, the [framework] doesn’t have the teeth…to impact the Hilco Development,” he said.

“Little Village is second to Magnificent Miles as an economic powerhouse,” Reynoso said. “How is it that I feel powerless? That we have such economic leverage and we can’t utilize that to stop more industries from coming to our community?”

The Chicago Plan Commission is set to consider the Little Village plan at 10 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 21 in City Council chambers at City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St.

The full plan can be read here.


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