LOGAN SQUARE — Faced with protests at her doorstep and opposition from aldermen, Mayor Lori Lightfoot called off an emergency demolition at the old Crawford coal plant in Little Village Thursday.
Protesters chanted outside Lightfoot’s house and outside the Little Village site Thursday night after city officials quietly gave a contractor permission to do more work at the site just weeks after a botched explosion covered the mostly-Latino neighborhood in dust during a respiratory pandemic.
Just an hour after the protests, the mayor tweeted the new demolition work would be stopped.
The April 11 implosion caused citywide outrage, especially as Chicago’s Latino community battles high rates of coronavirus. As of Friday morning, the 60623 ZIP code, which includes Little Village, has had 2,325 confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
At the time, Lightfoot slammed the site’s owner, Hilco Redevelopment Partners, and vowed to stop work at the site indefinitely.
Earlier Thursday, city officials said building inspectors determined the small building must be dismantled because it posed “imminent and dangerous” concerns because it is structurally unsound.
Later, Lightfoot said the demolition will not move forward over the next several days.
Work did start at the site Thursday with no notice to neighbors. Residents and elected officials representing Little Village were furious that, once again, neighbors weren’t notified by the city or the developer.
Hilco’s plan to build a one million-square warehouse at the former Crawford Coal Plant, 3501 S. Pulaski Road, has been criticized by environmental activists and residents for years. The area already faced high levels of air pollution due to the century-old coal plant, and the new warehouse will bring fleets of diesel trucks into the community.
At a protest outside the old Crawford Coal Plant Thursday night, State Senator Celina Villanueva said she was fed up. Villanueva, who lives in Little Village, said the only reason she knew about the latest work is because she is an elected official. Her parents would have had no idea if she hadn’t told them, she said.
“We’re done with this,” she told a group of Little Village protesters and fellow elected officials. “We’re done with Hilco. This is a situation that shouldn’t be happening tomorrow, it shouldn’t have happened a month ago. We shouldn’t be out here protesting this. Nobody from Hilco is talking to our community and we’re tired of it.”
Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), who represents neighboring Pilsen, joined about 20 activists in face masks to protest of the demolition outside Lightfoot’s Logan Square home Thursday night. Pointing to active investigations from Chicago’s inspector general and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, Sigcho-Lopez slammed Lightfoot for giving the developer the green light to continue demolition.
“There is no respect for human life — no respect for human life. There is no respect for our community,” he said. “We are not invisible.”
Outside Lightfoot’s home, lifelong Little Village resident Rebecca Martinez said the mayor could have notified residents of the new demolition work during a Spanish-speaking forum on coronavirus Wednesday but failed to do so.
“Our community is largely undocumented, immigrant and working class. And instead of providing relief to many essential workers, [Mayor Lightfoot] is allowing the demolition of the Crawford Plant that’s creating more pollution in our communities,” one protester said.
Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd), who represents Little Village, said he was told work would begin Friday — even though the city told Block Club Thursday that work had already begun.
Rodriguez was notified of the demolition Thursday afternoon. He said he immediately told Department of Buildings Commissioner Judy Frydland he opposed the demolition. Allowing demolition work to continue in the middle of a pandemic — and after the developer botched a smokestack demolition — is incomprehensible, he said.
“Any risks to our community should outweigh any other issue,” he said. “[I have] no reason to have faith in Hilco to get this done right.”
Ald. George Cardenas (12th), who also represents Little Village, said the disastrous smokestack implosion April 11 “has put all exposed residents” in the “resilient, immigrant” and largely Latino neighborhood “at greater risk of poorer health.”
“A month later, history is teed up to repeat itself,” said Cardenas, who serves as chair of the Committee on Health and Environmental Protection. “I implore that Mayor Lightfoot, Commissioner Arwady, and Commissioner Frydland understand the connection between existing health disparities in the Latino community and their susceptibility to suffering from COVID-19.”
Officials said they called community leaders earlier in the day to inform them about the “immediate need” for the work, but insisted the turbine will not be imploded.
“The demolition will not take place by implosion, and there will be no more implosion in Chicago until a new, separate permitting process is established,” the statement read.
Kim Wasserman, executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, said Hilco and the city gave residents little to no notice before last month’s implosion gone wrong. This time, they got zero notice.
“Once again, there was no communication, no plan of action, no precaution that we know of that people need to take,” Wasserman said.
Wasserman called on city officials to release structural engineering report to prove the demolition is an emergency.
Block Club Chicago and the Better Government Association have filed multiple requests for public information about the April 11 implosion, but the city has failed to provide any such documents.
“We don’t just want this to end now,” Villanueva said. “We want this to end. We want Hilco out of Little Village.”
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