PILSEN — Alderman-elect Byron Sigcho Lopez, who is replacing retiring and disgraced Ald. Danny Solis (25th), won’t approve development on one of Pilsen’s largest remaining vacant lots unless the proposal comes with 30 percent affordable housing.
Citing overwhelming community support for increased affordable housing at the site, Sigcho Lopez said any new proposals on the nearly 8-acre property at 18th and Peoria streets would need to have 30 percent affordable housing.
“I’m following the referendum that was passed along El Paseo,” Sigcho Lopez told Block Club Chicago. “Residents want 30 percent affordable housing on megaprojects.”
On Feb. 26, more than 90 percent of voters in the 12th and 23rd precincts in the 25th Ward — along with voters in several precincts in the 12th and 22nd Wards — backed a referendum that would help longtime residents avoid getting priced out of their community.
Their concern is that the proposed Paseo Trail, a four-mile stretch along the BNSF Railway slated to become a path for cyclists and joggers similar to the 606 in Wicker Park and Bucktown, would drive up property taxes and lead to further displacement in the area.
In full, the measure calls for developers to sign an agreement that would create 30 percent of affordable housing in new developments, freeze property taxes and provide funding for local jobs and affordable housing. A non-binding referendum question is a way to let elected officials know how voters are feeling, but does not require action on the part of lawmakers.
The 30 percent requirement is higher than the current city ordinance for the neighborhood, but it’s something Sigcho Lopez said is needed.
Last December, the City Council unanimously approved a new pilot plan that increases the city’s affordable housing requirement in Pilsen and Little Village from 10 percent to 20 percent within large-scale, market-rate housing developments in a 7.2-square-mile area in Pilsen and Little Village.
The contested lot at 18th and Peoria is owned by Property Market Group, which pitched plans for a 465-apartment development on the site. But the plan had effectively been blocked since Solis moved to rezone the property in April 2016 for a lack of affordable housing.
The property now falls partially within the new “affordable housing ordinance” pilot program, known as an ARO, and alongside the start of the proposed Paseo trail, which begins at the intersection of 16th and Sangamon streets.
Last year, Property Market Group sued the city, alleging it illegally changed the zoning on the property to block the project.
Attorneys for the development group have since requested for Solis and other city officials to testify in the case, according to a report from WBEZ.
Since a bombshell Sun-Times report Jan. 23 revealed Solis was wearing a wire, secretly recording Ald. Ed Burke (14th) for the feds, the veteran alderman has been missing from City Hall — and the ward he was elected to serve.
Litigation on the case is ongoing.
Sigcho Lopez said he hasn’t yet heard from the developer, nor has Property Market Group offered a counter proposal since the most recent concept was rejected by Pilsen residents and the site was downzoned.
A new proposal would need to include a “significant amount of affordable housing, and address community concerns such as parking, green space, commercial space for small businesses,” he said.
“They have to present a completely different proposal that incorporates some of the recommendations made by residents,” he said.
Ultimately, he said the project would need to be vetted by the community and garner support from residents in order to win his approval.
During a public community meeting for the project back in 2017, Sigcho Lopez, the former executive director of Pilsen Alliance, called for as much as 100 percent affordable at the site.
“We have thousands of families that have been displaced. …It’s not outrageous to say we want all affordable. …Luxury housing is not something we are going to compromise with,” Sigcho Lopez previously told DNAinfo.
Nearly three years later, Sigcho Lopez said in an ideal world he would love to have an affordable housing developer oversee the project but conceded that was not the current circumstances.
“Obviously, nobody wants empty lots. We want to see good projects that bring opportunities for all of us,” Sigcho Lopez said. “The idea of public meeting and discussion is to shape up projects to the needs of the residents.
“Unfortunately, PMG has not been willing to meet people halfway… I’m going to be very vigilant about what happens at those sites,” he said.
Property Markets Group did not return a request for comment.
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