PILSEN — Pilsen’s alderman has moved to downzone the beloved St. Adalbert Roman Catholic Church site — and its owner, the Archdiocese of Chicago, is threatening to sue.
The city’s Committee on Zoning voted 11-4 to back Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez’s (25th) push to change the site’s zoning, limiting what can be developed at the site at 1628-1650 W. 17th St.
Tuesday’s vote brings the freshman alderman one step closer to fulfilling his years-long promise to block gentrifying development at the former church.
The plan now goes to City Council Wednesday for final approval.
Sigcho-Lopez said he wants the developer who takes over the site to engage with Pilsen neighbors and St. Adalbert’s former parishioners in a transparent process. Archdiocese officials Tuesday would not say which developer aims to buy the site, what their plans are and how much they are paying.
“This is our attempt and our effort to bring everyone to the table and guarantee that parishioners and residents have a voice in this matter,” Sigcho-Lopez said. “… This is an opportunity for us to have a different approach to empty parishes, to give an opportunity to recreate and transform especially in times of crisis.”
But before the vote, attorney Lisa Misher with the city’s Law Department warned the move to downzone the property could get the city sued.
“It will be viewed as private property in court and a court would look at whether this change in zoning … is a legitimate downzone,” Misher said. “Based on our experience, I don’t think it would withstand that test.”
Eric Wollan, chief capital assets officer for the archdiocese, said it will likely sue the city to “preserve our property rights” if the downzoning goes forward.
Wollan said the archdiocese is in talks with a potential buyer, but wouldn’t disclose details about the buyer or how much the sale price would be. He said nothing is finalized, but the potential buyer’s plans to reuse the buildings.
In 2016, now disgraced former Ald. Danny Solis (25th) downzoned Pilsen’s largest vacant site at 16th and Peoria streets from residential to an industrial use, effectively blocking development there. Developer Property Markets Group proposed building 500 apartments and a park, but residents and activists, including Sigcho-Lopez, wanted more affordable housing.
St. Adalbert was founded in 1874 by Polish immigrants. The current church building was built in 1912. In 2016, the archdiocese announced it would consolidate six Pilsen churches into three. As part of the merger, St. Adalbert was set to close. They cited changing demographics, low Mass attendance and a decline in the number of priests as reasons for the reconfiguration.
Previous Deals To Sell Church Failed
In the last four years, the Archdiocese of Chicago has twice gone under contract to sell the property, but both deals have fallen through.
Most recently, City Pads, a developer who sparked ire among residents after “whitewashing” a mural at the Casa Aztlan community center, was under contract to buy the church complex for $4 million in September 2019 — months after the church was deconsecrated.
But a year later, the archdiocese and the developer said the deal was off the table but would not say why.
In 2019, after Block Club reported the $4 million contract, City Pads said it would not put housing in the former sanctuary building. At the time, City Pads said it wanted to build a co-living apartment building on the site.
The company also had plans to rehab the convent and rectory to make way for more apartments.
The property — consisting of the sanctuary, rectory, convent, school and a parking lot — spans 2.1 acres in the heart of the changing neighborhood.
The archdiocese announced in February 2016 that St. Adalbert would close due to the more than $3 million needed to repair the church’s 185-foot towers, which have been surrounded by scaffolding for years.
The archdiocese tried to sell the church building in November 2016, when it contracted with the Chicago Academy of Music. That deal also fell through.
In September 2018, the archdiocese hired commercial real estate firm SVN Chicago to try to sell the property again. A real estate listing at the time infuriated some Pilsen residents because it touted the church’s towers as “perfect for penthouse units.” The language was later removed.
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