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City Council To Weigh Cracking Down On Polluters In Last Meeting Before 2021 Budget Talks

Aldermen are likely to approve a measure creating a way for the city to revoke tax incentives awarded to “bad actor” developers. The mechanism won't be applied retroactively to Hilco, however.

City Council chambers at City Hall.
Colin Boyle/ Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — The City Council on Wednesday will consider at least one ordinance aimed at cracking down on industrial polluters — and potentially a second, depending on the outcome of a last-minute committee meeting scheduled to revive a proposal that appeared to stall on Tuesday.

Aldermen are on track to approve a measure (O2020-3395) sponsored by Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd) creating a legal framework for the city to revoke tax incentives awarded to so-called “bad actor” developers, following Hilco Redevelopment Partners’ botched April 9 demolition of a smokestack in Rodriguez’s ward.

Related: Framework to revoke property tax incentives from ‘bad actor’ developers passes committee

A separate ordinance (O2020-4590) proposed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot to add new regulatory requirements for industrial developers appeared to hit a wall on Tuesday, when it was deferred from consideration by the council’s zoning committee following criticism from aldermen. But the zoning committee scheduled a follow-up meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday to reconsider the ordinance.

Both measures are being proposed at a time when environmental justice advocates are looking for sweeping changes to the city’s regulations on pollution.

The 10 a.m. City Council meeting will be the last time aldermen gather before Oct. 21, when Lightfoot is scheduled to release her proposed budget for 2021 and give an address on the spending plan. Lightfoot is tasked with presenting a balanced budget as the city faces a projected $1.2 billion gap in 2021 due to economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, and many residents are calling for money to be reallocated from the police department to fund other community services.

Related: Chicagoans want money reallocated from police budget, city-sponsored survey shows

Rodriguez introduced his ordinance about two years after the city awarded Hilco $19.7 million in property tax rebates to demolish the former Crawford Coal Plant and build a 1-million-square-foot shipping and distribution center near the intersection of 33rd Street and Pulaski Road. And Lightfoot has stood by actions the city has taken following the demolition, Block Club Chicago reported.

However, a law department spokesperson confirmed to The Daily Line on Tuesday that the ordinance will not apply retroactively, meaning it cannot be used to claw back the tax incentives already awarded to Hilco.

Language in the tax incentive revocation ordinance sets limits on when the city can take back the rebates, including when the developer violates city, state or federal laws; when a violation of terms laid out in a Redevelopment Agreement occurs; or when a developer violates environmental laws if they were considered in the tax incentive’s issuance.

Neighborhood environmental advocates said they were not impressed with the tax revocation ordinance or Lightfoot’s proposed industrial ordinance, which both aim to stymie irresponsible developers from negatively affecting the environment of surrounding communities.

Kim Wasserman, executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, said she’s seen an unwillingness of the city to work with the communities and partners that have been “working on the frontlines.”

“It’s a little too late across the board. We have raised the concerns on Hilco from day one and they ignored us,” Wasserman said. “These are all things the same city that created these problems is trying to fix.”

“It feels a lot like the city is trying to have a couple big  splashy things so they can have those things to point to,” said Anthony Moser, a board member of Neighbors for Environmental Justice. “What we’re asking for is a serious reckoning with Chicago’s history of environmental racism.”

The Wednesday City Council meeting comes just days after Lightfoot’s administration apologized for neglecting to notify East Side residents that RMG, the parent company of General Iron, was granted a state permit to move forward on opening a new metal recycling facility at 11600 S. Burley Ave.

“General Iron has a proven track record of unsafe operations yet the city isn’t doing anything to stop them,” said Rev. Roosevelt Watkins, III president of Pastors United for Change. “We saw that last week with the first permit being issued.”

CTA funding withheld over minority hiring

During a reconvened meeting of the City Council Committee on Finance on Tuesday, aldermen voted to hold in committee an agreement (O2020-4570) with the CTA to give $2.1 million in tax-increment financing (TIF) assistance for “life safety improvements” on the Blue Line’s Dearborn Street subway between W. Arcade Place and W. Marble St.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), chair of the finance committee, will also hold an agreement with CTA for $7 million in TIF for infrastructure and track improvements on the CTA’s Lake Street Bridge (O2020-4567), which passed out of the committee on Monday.

The agreements were held after aldermen in the committee expressed dissatisfaction with the fact the city could not impose its Minority, Women and Veteran-owned Business Enterprise standards for hiring contractors to the agreements due to CTA’s regulations set by the state.

Adding on the city’s requirements to the CTA’s existing Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program would create inconsistencies, said Jim McDonald, a city attorney.

“I am not about to support something like this,” Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) said. “We keep saying our hands are tied. I think we have an obligation to not fund it at this time. I do believe that the work needs to be done.”

Last month, Corporation Counsel Mark Flessner sent a letter to alderman urging them not to push for more diverse hiring in city contracts beyond what the city’s rules require.

The following other citywide measures are set to be approved on Wednesday:

O2020-3982 — An ordinance to expand the city’s rules on bike deliveries to allow private delivery services to use “cargo e-bikes.”

SO2020-2852 — An ordinance prohibiting city-issued forms from asking people to list their sex “unless it is necessary for medical reasons or required by another law.” For any city form that requires respondents to list their gender, the new rule requires “nonbinary” to be listed as an option.

O2020-4587 — A measure authorizing the city’s transportation department to procure and install “vehicle impact protection devices” that are firm enough to stop high-speed vehicles without being moved.

SO2020-4588 — An ordinance adding regulations for low-speed electric public passenger vehicles like those operated by Tuk Tuk Chicago.

SO2020-4577 — Appropriation of about $4.9 million in additional grant funds to various apartments that were not originally budgeted for the 2020 fiscal year.

O2020-4593 — A series of “technical corrections and adjustments” to the city’s building code.

O2020-4586 — An ordinance adding new criteria and requirements for the establishment of future Special Character Overlay Districts.

The following location-specific measures are set to be approved:

O2020-4596 — An ordinance to issue up to $7 million in Multi-Family Program bonds, enter into a restructuring agreement and issue tax increment financing for HPR Preservation,  for the LUCHA affordable housing complex at 1152-58 N. Christiana Ave.  in the 26th Ward.

O2020-1899 — A proposal by the Chicago Park District to build a new 17-acre headquarters including offices, turf fields and an indoor gym at the intersection of 48th Street and Western Avenue in the 14th Ward.

O2020-4573 — An intergovernmental agreement (O2020-4573) with Metra supporting the construction of a new Avalon Park station near the intersection of 79th Street and Lowe Avenue in the 17th Ward.

O2020-2375 — A proposal by Howard Brown Health Center to build a new six-story medical office with ground-floor retail at 3501 N. Halsted St. in the 46th Ward.

O2020-3706 — A proposal by Celadon Holdings to build a six-story, 50-unit residential development with 13 parking spaces at 3557 W. Lawrence Ave. in the 33rd Ward.

O2020-4571 — A proposal by Zhou B Group to rehab two buildings for commercial and residential use and build new a four-story mixed-use building at 3315 S. Morgan St. in the 11th Ward.

O2020-1891 — A plan by Baker Development Corporation to open a cannabis cultivation and infusion facility at a recently-renovated 62,000-square-foot office building at 2017 N. Mendell St. in the 2nd Ward.

O2020-4549) — A proposal by Timothy J. Rand to open a cannabis cultivation site at 8500-8532 S. South Chicago Ave. in the 8th Ward.

O2020-4539 — A proposal by Andres E. Schcolnik of Wilson Property Management LLC to allow “potential utilization of a cannabis business establishment” at 9737 S. Torrence Ave. in the 10th Ward.

O2020-4471 — An ordinance to vacate a portion of Corbett Street just north of the Chicago River South Branch in the 11th Ward so that developer Prologis can use it as a driveway for its proposed logistics facility.

O2020-4576 — An ordinance authorizing the city to acquire eight properties in the 5200 block of W. Chicago Ave. in the 37th Ward as part of an effort to redevelop the Laramie State Bank building.

O2020-4584 — An ordinance allowing the city to seize 29 properties along Division Street between Larrabee Street and the Kennedy Expressway for a road-widening project that will also involve the replacement of both Division Street bridges.

O2020-4563 — Sale of a vacant city-owned property at 1319 S. Kilbourn Ave. in the 24th Ward to United Scaffolding, Inc.

O2020-4565 — Sale of a city-owned property at 947 W. Cullerton St. in the 25th Ward to Neighborspace so it can open a community garden.

The following mayoral appointments are scheduled to be confirmed on Wednesday:

A2020-101 — Appointment of Matthew Beaudet as the next commissioner of the city’s Department of Buildings, taking over for former commissioner Judy Frydland, who retired earlier this year.

A2020-115 — Appointment of attorney Timothy Knudsen to be the chair of the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals, replacing Farzin Parang.

A2020-116 — Appointment of attorney Brian Sanchez to the Zoning Board of Appeals, filling the seat vacated by Sylvia Garcia when her term expired.

A2020-117A2020-118A2020-119 — Reappointments of Jose Maldonado, David Whittley and Olga Camargo to new terms on the Chicago Public Building Commission.

A2020-102 — Appointment of Laura Parry as a member of the License Appeal Commission.

A2020-124 — Reappointment of Craig Chico as a commissioner of the Chicago Housing Authority Board.

A2020-125 — Reappointment of Mildred Harris as a commissioner of the Chicago Housing Authority Board.

A2020-20A2020-113A2020-114 — Reappointment of Dr. Stephanie Cox-Batson, Barbara McDonald and David Daskal to the Chicago Board of Ethics.