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Pilsen, Little Village, Back of the Yards

After Little Village Coated In Dust Cloud, City Pitches New Ordinance To Avoid Future Demolition Disasters

As part of the ordinance, set to be introduced Wednesday, the city will require implosion applicants to notify residents within 1,000 feet, post a large sign and hold public meetings.

Left: Mayor Lori Lightfoot speaks at a press conference Monday. Right: Work continued at the Crawford coal plant site Friday.
Facebook; Mauricio Pena/ Block Club Chicago
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LITTLE VILLAGE —  Two months after an implosion covered Little Village in a cloud of dust, Mayor Lori Lightfoot is proposing changes to city law requiring written notices, posted notifications and public hearings before future implosions, according to a filing with the Cook County Clerk’s office. 

As part of the ordinance, set to be introduced Wednesday, developers who want to implode a building would need to notify residents and property owners within 1,000 feet of the demolition site.

The ordinance is also requiring a 4-by 8-feet sign with at least six-inch letters at the site describing the “intended use of explosives, the date, time,” according to the filing.

Applicants must also host a public meeting within two miles of the implosion site, where attendees will have at least two hours to ask questions. The meetings are to be held between 30 and 60 days before a scheduled implosion, according to the filing.

In a statement, Lightfoot said the city’s “top priority was protecting the health and safety of residents in every community.”

“This new ordinance ensures that, going forward, the use of explosives in demolition follows the strictest and most up-to-date rules and regulations for this rare and potentially hazardous activity, and that the community is notified and wholly engaged before any such action is approved,” Lightfoot said.

Following the failed implosion at the old Crawford coal plant, a cloud of dust stretched across at least six blocks, covering Little Village homes, cars and yards on April 11.

On Easter Sunday, Lightfoot stood at the site issuing a stop work order and calling for a “top to bottom review of city procedures on permitting and monitoring of demolition.”

Lightfoot put a six-month moratorium on demolitions using the implosion methodology and set out to revise policies on implosions in the city. 

“My office will coordinate across various city departments. I want to assure residents of Little Village, and residents of Chicago, that what happened here is utterly unacceptable and we are taking swift actions to address it,” Lightfoot said at the time.

The ordinance would also require those seeking a demolition permit to include a project timeline and plans for security, transportation, hazardous materials, dust mitigation, air quality monitoring and emergency response. The Department of Buildings and the Business Affairs and Consumer Protection would review these materials.

In addition, the Chicago Fire Department, Chicago Department of Public Health, Chicago Department of Transportation and Water Management and Office of Emergency Management and Communications all will need to sign off on an applicant’s plan.

Years of community opposition

While the ordinance requires public meetings, the city did not answer questions on whether concerns from residents, aldermen or the Committee on Health and Environmental Protections would be enough to halt an implosion from moving forward.

For the past two years, neighbors and activists have called on more scrutiny from city officials on the demolition of the century-old smokestack.

A day before the April 11 demolition, activists asked city officials to stop the demolition amid a global respiratory pandemic after they were notified less than two days before the implosion. Some neighbors, who live near the site, told Block Club they were not notified at all.  In the wake of the implosion, the city fined Hilco and its contractor $68,000 for city code violations.

Residents and activists have criticized the mayor, Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd), city departments and Hilco over their handling of the demolition. Some neighbors and activists want Hilco out of the neighborhood entirely and have asked the city to rescind a $19.7 million tax incentive previously granted to the company.

Earlier this month, the city gave Hilco the green light to resume demolition. City officials said a turbine building at the site was an imminent threat to the neighborhood and needed to come down. 

Department of Buildings Commissioner Judith Frydland said the demolition would be a “mechanical demolition” with bricks removed a few pieces at a time. “No explosives” or wrecking ball would be used.

Water cannons would be used to prevent dust from leaving the site. Large scissor-like equipment will then be used to remove the remaining steel columns, Frydland said in May.

But two separate videos from the renewed demolition shows dust billowing in the air during the recent work.

The Crawford Coal Plant closed in 2012. Hilco plans to build a one-million-square-foot warehouse for Target in its place at the 70-acre site, 3501 S. Pulaski Road.

Read all of Block Club’s coverage of the former Crawford Coal plant and its impact on the community here.

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