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Pilsen, Little Village, Back of the Yards

Controversial Pilsen Landmark District Plan Opposed By Neighbors Up For Vote Tuesday

For months, longtime Pilsen neighbors and the alderman have demanded a vote on the unpopular proposal, hoping it can be formally struck down. They worry it will stack working-class homeowners with added costs.

After more than a year, many Pilsen homeowners want to see a landmark designation voted down in the Lower West Side neighborhood.
Mauricio Peña/ Block Club Chicago
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PILSEN — A key city committee will finally vote Tuesday on whether to scrap or implement landmark protections for hundreds of Pilsen homes built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

Longtime homeowners who oppose the plan argue the designation would stack working-class homeowners with added costs, restrict what owners are able to sell their properties for and lead to more gentrification. But the city has moved forward on the plan anyway, with officials and preservationists saying the historic designation will prevent booming developments from changing the neighborhood’s character.

The plan has been met with opposition from Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), too. He’s called for the designation to come up for a vote so it can be nixed by city officials.

The plan, introduced in November 2018, must be voted on by January or the landmark district will be automatically implemented. Neighbors and community leaders have accused the zoning committee of trying to run out the clock by not formally voting on it.

RELATED: Pilsen Neighbors Demand City Scrap Landmark District Plan: ‘They Are Trying To Drag It Out’

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.

Neighbors like Victoria Romero, who has lived in Pilsen her entire life and owns a home in the district, said the increased costs of maintaining a home in a historic district and increased property taxes would ultimately displace more Latino families in the gentrifying neighborhood. Neighbors have opposed the district since it was first discussed at a meeting in April 2019.

“I wish I could be more positive of what I have seen in other areas around the city and around the country that have been designated landmark districts,” Romero said.“Unfortunately, longterm residents just don’t fare well in those types of districts. We get a sense that the city cares more about buildings than the people that live in them.”

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. Still, the commission approved the designation, 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 community 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.

While Cox advocated for the landmark district, he told residents it wasn’t a “foregone conclusion.”

During a series of meetings in October, homeowners in the district remained steadfast in their opposition, saying the city has ignored residents who don’t want the district.

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 previously said.

If the city does not take the matter to a vote before January, the area will automatically become a landmark in February.

During Tuesday’s hearing, the Committee on Zoning will also consider a separate ordinance, introduced earlier this year, calling on a six month demolition moratorium, similar to a plan introduced along the Bloomingdale Trail.

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