PILSEN — While 25th Ward Ald. Danny Solis and many Pilsen residents want the old Lowenthal lead factory site turned into a community green space, they first have to figure out who’s responsible for the site and the costs that come with it.
The site — which runs along Cullerton and Sangamon streets — has been in the process of a clean up by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency since June.
At a meeting Wednesday evening, residents of senior building Casa Maravilla, which borders the Lowenthal site, were given an update on the site’s status.
The $750,000 cleanup should be done by the end of September, according to EPA on-site manager Steve Faryan, and after that, Solis has made it clear he’ll seek a “green space,” like a park or garden, for the site. But tracking down the shuttered factory's owner has been a challenge.
Faryan has been trying to clean up Lowenthal since 2011. However, he’s been unable to locate the site’s owner, James Connel.
On July 24, Solis — who is head of the City Council zoning committee — re-zoned the Lowenthal site into a single-unit residential district.
That was done in order to protect against anyone who might try to turn the lot into a commercial space without regard to residents’ interests, said Solis spokeswoman Stacy Raker.
“In other words, they won’t be able to build anything except a single family home without community input,” Raker said.
Sabre Group LLC, a Carbondale-based investment company, recently began paying the back taxes on the property, according to the EPA’s Steve Faryan.
Sabre Group manager Ken Rochman said Thursday morning that the company has no intent to buy the property. He said his company frequently buys unpaid back taxes in hopes that the owner will eventually pay them back with interest.
Whether the lot’s acquired by a private company or the city, Faryan said the $750,000 clean up tab currently being paid by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will ultimately need to be reimbursed.
Jerry Mead-Lucero, of Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization (P.E.R.R.O.), has been an advocate for both the clean up of Lowenthal and the plan for a green space.
“We don’t really know what’s going on there,” he said. “It adds a wrinkle to this whole thing that I don’t even know what to make out of it yet.”