PILSEN — A controversial effort to landmark hundreds of Pilsen buildings is effectively dead after a key city committee voted down the plan Tuesday.
Members of the City Council’s Committee on Zoning unanimously voted against the city’s plan to convert a 1.5-mile stretch of Baroque-inspired buildings along 18th Street and Blue Island Avenue into a historic landmark district. The plan was wildly unpopular with longtime homeowners who argued the designation would saddle working-class homeowners with added costs.
Ahead of the vote, Maurice Cox, commissioner of Department of Planning and Development, said the city’s meetings with neighbors — an attempt to mitigate property owners’ concerns — were not received well.
“We heard from a very robust portion of the community that the district designation was not perceived to be in their best interest,” Cox said.
Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), who represents Pilsen, had implored fellow committee members to vote against the landmark district.
“Of course we want to consider every single tool that is available to us to address the No. 1 issue that we have in our community, which is displacement,” Sigcho-Lopez said.
But for more than a year, Pilsen homeowners have made it known the landmark district was “not a path forward,” he said — and they believed it would limit their ability to sell properties and lead to more gentrification in the changing area.
Several homeowners and Pilsen residents spoke at the meeting, arguing the proposed district would be cost-prohibitive to low-income, longtime neighbors.
But preservationists, including influential group Preservation Chicago, supported the city’s plan to landmark more than 900 buildings constructed between 1875 and 1910, along with murals painted since 1978.
Proposed Demolition Freeze In Pilsen Fails
Following the vote, the zoning committee also voted 7-10 to strike down a separate ordinance introduced by Sigcho-Lopez calling for a six-month demolition freeze in Pilsen. That plan is similar to one introduced along the 606 to slow rapid gentrification.
Sigcho-Lopez said the demolition moratorium would allow his office to work with other city departments to come up with “a viable” plan to address displacement in the neighborhood.
But the ordinance failed to generate support. City Buildings Commissioner Matt Beaudet said the freeze would be difficult to implement because it would apply to more than 5,200 buildings across 704 acres. The 606 moratorium only applied to residential buildings, he said.
“City departments do not have the resources to manually input the volume of holds into the system,” Beaudet said.
A city attorney also said the Law Department could have faced legal challenges to the demolition freeze.
Any legal challenge would look at the duration of the proposed moratorium as well as the previous prohibition in place since the city’s Landmark Commission adopted the preliminary landmark district in December 2018, the attorney said.
“Courts, in deciding these cases will weigh public benefits…compared with the burden of private owners,” the attorney said.
Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), who voted with Ald. Sigcho-Lopez against the landmark district, said the 25th Ward alderman “could not have it both ways.”
“Thinking as a property owner, if you own a parcel of land…and you desire to change the structure within the current zoning— you have vested legal rights. If we pass this, you won’t at least for six months,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins said he didn’t support the 606 demolition freeze ordinance and wouldn’t support one in Pilsen, either.
In striking down the landmark district, the zoning committee rejected the “only legitimate and traditional reason to tell a property owner that you’re taking their rights away from them,” Hopkins said.
Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) agreed.
“In this particular case, if there was a clear and present threat to important or historic structure than perhaps the community would have taken advantage of landmarking, but resoundingly that was rejected,” Reilly said.
Ald. Harry Osterman (48th), who chairs the Housing and Real Estate committee, said Sigcho-Lopez had been an alderman for 18 months but has failed to work with the city and his colleagues “to get something done.”
Still, Osterman said he was committed to support the six month freeze and would work with “Sigcho-Lopez and his constituents to solve their issues.”
Sigcho-Lopez said he heard his colleagues’ concerns and was working “in good faith” with the administration and Housing Committee.
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