PILSEN — In the face of mounting public pressure, a contentious plan to turn parts of Pilsen into a historic landmark district will come before a vote at a key city committee meeting in December.
The city’s Zoning Committee is scheduled to vote on implementing landmark protections for hundreds of Pilsen homes built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Bennett Lawson, chief of staff for Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), who chairs the committee, confirmed the vote is planned for Dec. 1.
The plan, introduced in November 2018, must be voted on by January or the landmark district will be automatically implemented. Neighbors and community leaders, who overwhelmingly oppose the district, have accused the zoning committee of stalling and running out the clock by not formally voting on it.
The announcement of the vote was made after activists and Pilsen homeowners walked into the kitchen of Tunney’s Lakeview restaurant, Ann Sather’s, on Sunday demanding a vote. Pilsen Alliance members and some homeowners have also protested outside of Tunney’s restaurant and home.
In a video posted by Pilsen Alliance, a person could be heard yelling at the group to “get out of my restaurant.”
Lawson denied the protests influenced the decision to set a date for the vote, saying the committee members had been working to set a date “for a few weeks.”
As part of the proposal, the city aims to landmark more than 900 Baroque-inspired buildings constructed between 1875 and 1910, along with murals painted since 1978. It would become one of Chicago’s largest historic districts.
Preservationists have supported the district while residents opposed it since the first meeting over the issue in April 2019.
Longtime residents argue the designation would burden working-class homeowners with added costs, restrict what owners can sell their properties for and lead to more gentrification. But the city has moved forward on the plan anyway, with officials saying the historic designation will prevent condos and other developments from changing the neighborhood’s character.
City officials said they received five letters of support for the designation compared to 65 letters against the proposal during a public hearing last year before the landmarks commission. The commission approved the designation anyway, giving the city one year to bring the matter up for a vote.
Rather than voting on the landmark in May, city officials agreed on a six-month extension for more community engagement.
During recent meetings, Maurice Cox, commissioner of the city’s Department of Planning, and other city officials unveiled a smaller district with 465 buildings focused on the 18th Street and Blue Island Commercial corridors.
But the homeowners in the district have remained steadfast in their opposition to the plan.
Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), property owners and community activists have criticized Tunney, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and city leaders, saying they’ve dragged out the process and ignored residents who don’t want the district.
Instead of pushing the unpopular landmark, Sigcho-Lopez said officials need to work with residents on plans like his six-month demolition moratorium to address skyrocketing property tax increases in the neighborhood.
“This process has been dragged [out] for quite some time now at the detriment of small businesses and homeowners who have [been] very clear” about their opposition to the landmark designation, he said.
If the city does not take the matter to a vote before January, the area will automatically become a landmark in February.
The next virtual community meeting is 4 p.m. Tuesday online.
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