CHICAGO — A City Council committee green-lit a plan on Tuesday for the city to swoop in on a closed West Garfield Park grocery store site to alleviate a food desert, but not before aldermen grilled city planning officials over what the deal will mean for Chicago’s land intervention policy moving forward.
The council’s Committee on Housing and Real Estate voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to advance a plan (O2022-401) by the Department of Planning and Development for the city to spend $700,000 to acquire the site of a closed Aldi store at 3811-41 W. Madison St. in the 28th Ward. The purchase would be furnished with revenue from the Madison/Austin tax-increment financing district.
The Aldi at the site “abruptly closed” last October, leaving “a large vacant store in the center of the Madison commercial corridor” and “a big hole in the amount of grocers available in the neighborhood,” planning department project coordinator Michael Parella told committee members on Tuesday.
The planning department “desires to have acquisition authority to actively facilitate returning a new neighborhood grocery store or a similar use with community support,” Parella said. “By controlling the site, [the department] can work with neighborhood residents to find a community-supported end user or grocer,” potentially by issuing a Request for Proposals.
Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) urged his colleagues to support the plan, saying it’s “something the community has been asking for” and is “in the best interest of the city.”
“People in that community need a grocery store to provide the basics of life,” Ervin said, adding that the closest grocery is about two miles away from the site. He said a city-backed effort to revive the site would “play into the revitalization” of the Madison Street corridor following the opening of a new roller rink at Madison and Pulaski Avenue with the help of state grants and the launch of a new West Garfield Park Special Service Area this year.
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Neighboring Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) called the Aldi site “pivotal” for the busy Madison corridor, saying city leaders should do anything they can to “sustain it.”
But Burnett and multiple other aldermen said they were surprised to see the planning department so quickly jump on a redevelopment proposal when the administration had rebuffed similar pleas for help in their own wards.
“If I’m getting beat up in my neighborhood when I have a building and a store shuttered, and my residents are looking at me saying, ‘What is Alderman Ervin doing that you’re not,’ they could think I’m not fighting,” Ald. David Moore (17th) said. “If the city is going to set a precedent on this, great. But it has to be from a policy standpoint citywide, not just as one-offs.”
Ald. Greg Mitchell (7th) agreed, saying he had “the exact same situation” play out in his ward several years ago when an Aldi closed, and “the building has just sat there” ever since.
And Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) slammed city planning officials for committing to buy the property “on a wing and a prayer” before they had lined up a new grocer to operate the space.
“You never want to put the cart before the horse,” Beale said. “The proper way to do this is to find a user, find someone who’s going to go in there and maintain that property and pay taxes.”
Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) asked housing committee chair Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) to hold the acquisition item from a vote until the planning department showed its official “criteria” for when it would intervene to buy a vacant property.
“The department has been very consistent with its application,” Lopez said. “And I’m not necessarily comfortable with the fact that we’re going to approve this now and find out what the criteria is later.”
Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) disagreed, saying he has “an issue with having a similar consistent policy for every single ward, because we’re all different.”
And Osterman rebuffed Lopez’s call to delay the vote, citing “a sense of urgency” to fill the food desert.
After about 30 minutes of debate, the proposal cleared the committee with a sole dissenting vote from Lopez.