LITTLE VILLAGE — When Hilco’s massive Target warehouse opens at the old Crawford coal plant later this year, truck drivers going to and from the facility will be banned from driving through neighborhood streets, according to the area alderman.
Following public pressure, Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd) announced Thursday drivers with diesel trucks arriving at and leaving the facility, 3501 S. Pulaski Road, will not be allowed to travel through residential portions of the area.
“I am happy to report that my office has convinced the city to add new language to the Planned Development site document, that mandates that trucks will only be allowed to travel back and forth between the I-55 Pulaski exit and the warehouse — not into residential areas of Little Village,” Rodriguez wrote on Facebook.
Concerns brought about by community groups and residents prompted the changes, Rodriguez told Block Club. In addition to the traffic rules, city officials agreed to remove a 2,500-gallon fuel tank with a filling station from the site, another critical change residents demanded for more than a year, according to a letter from the city’s Department of Planning and Development.
Mi Villita member Yovanny Cabarcas said the traffic restrictions are a “victory for the community.” This “small victory” is an example of community organizing forcing public officials to respond to residents’ concerns, Cabarcas said.
Cabarcas hopes this inspires more people to become more engaged and put pressure on elected officials to prioritize the needs of residents over private industry.
Before the warehouse was approved, residents and community groups raised concerns more truck traffic would add to existing congestion and bring more pollution to the neighborhood. The project was approved in 2018 with the support of outgoing Ald. Ricardo Muñoz despite vehement objections from neighbors and activists.
The demolition of the Hilco Redevelopment Partners site has been mired in controversy after a worker plummeted to his death and a botched implosion of the smokestack left the neighborhood covered in a cloud of dust.
Another change to the Planned Development includes increasing the size of the warehouse by more than 303,000 square feet at the request of the developer.
“With regards to your request, the Department of Planning and Development has determined that allowing these modifications will not create an adverse impact on the Planned Development or surrounding neighborhood, will not result in an increase in the bulk or density and will not change the character of the development, and therefore would constitute a minor change,” a city official wrote in approving the changes.
Now that the traffic rules are in place, neighbors and organizers are focusing their attention on how city officials will enforce them.
Rodriguez said traffic signs will be erected directing truck drivers away from residential streets and toward the expressway. He plans to work with community groups and residents to push Target, which will lease the space, to educate their drivers on the rules. He also plans to work with 10th District police on enforcement when necessary.
But Lucky Camargo, a member of Mi Villita, said existing signs don’t deter drivers from going through the neighborhood.
“There are weight limits and no truck signs on some streets, but there is no enforcement. It’s just a sign,” Camargo said. “It’s interesting that the city has these red light and speed cameras to catch people running red lights. But there is no equal enforcement for these trucks.”
While Camargo was pleased by the changes, she said these restrictions aren’t a solution. The city needs to “overhaul zoning practices” to better protect residents of Little Village from air pollution, Camargo said.
Kim Wasserman, executive director of the Little Village Environment Organization, said the changes don’t eliminate the pollution stemming from hundreds of trucks coming into the neighborhood.
“We have massive concerns of air quality during peak hours blowing through Little Village or Archer Heights,” Wasserman said.
The environmental group also worries about enforcement plans and whether the responsibility would fall on Target and not the drivers, who are sometimes private contractors, Wasserman said. There needs to be alternatives to using police for enforcement so drivers aren’t harassed, she said.
“As much as we don’t want these trucks driving through the neighborhoods, we don’t want drivers baring the brunt of bad decisions by developers,” Wasserman said.
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