PILSEN — City Council members blocked a vote on an ordinance to downzone the site of the beloved St. Adalbert Roman Catholic Church in Pilsen, setting off a heated exchange between Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th).
Alds. Nicholas Sposato (38th) and Ariel Reboyras (30th) moved to defer and publish Sigcho-Lopez’s proposal during Wednesday’s meeting, meaning it won’t go before City Council for a full vote until next month.
Sigcho-Lopez moved to downzone the church site at 1628-1650 W. 17th St. in an effort to force any developer to engage with Pilsen neighbors and St. Adalbert’s former parishioners about future plans for the property. At a zoning committee meeting Tuesday, Archdiocese officials would not say which developer aims to buy the site, what their plans are and how much they are paying.
The alderperson’s ordinance passed the zoning committee, despite a representative from the Archdiocese saying it would likely sue the city if it passed.
“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 Tuesday. “… 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.”
Sigcho-Lopez blasted Lightfoot for usurping aldermanic prerogative, or the custom of deferring to alderpeople on major developments in their wards. The mayor repeatedly told the alderman he was “out of order.”
“In the 25th Ward, we have a serious issue of displacement, … the issue of corruption and developers taking over our community is a very real issue,” Sigcho-Lopez said on the council floor Wednesday. “It’s a shame what we continue to see from this administration … the lack of due process in many decision that we make everyday.
“Your political agenda tried to take aldermanic prerogative, look at what mayoral prerogative has done for our city. It’s chaos. Are you an incompetent mayor?” Sigcho-Lopez yelled.
“What you’ve said are blatant lies that will addressed in due course,” Lightfoot said in response.
The two continued to fight during the debate before a vote on a Chicago casino, as well.
A previous effort to impact development through downzoning ended up costing the city millions in litigation.
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 church building was built in 1912. In 2016, the archdiocese announced it would consolidate six Pilsen churches into three, closing St. Adalbert as part of that merger. They cited changing demographics, low Mass attendance and a decline in the number of priests as reasons for the reconfiguration.
The Archdiocese also said more than $3 million was needed to repair the church’s 185-foot towers, which have been surrounded by scaffolding for years.
Previous Deals To Sell Church Failed
In the last few 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 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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