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West Loop Businesses Pan Landmarking Plan: 'This Isn't Communist China'

By Chloe Riley | July 30, 2014 3:20pm
 Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) at a community meeting Tuesday to discuss the Fulton/Randolph District Plan - a city proposal which includes landmarking 125 buildings on the West Loop.
Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) at a community meeting Tuesday to discuss the Fulton/Randolph District Plan - a city proposal which includes landmarking 125 buildings on the West Loop.
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DNAinfo/Chloe Riley

WEST LOOP — Some 66 business owners have signed a petition objecting to having their buildings landmarked under a city plan that would create a historical district along Fulton and Randolph on the Near West Side.

But the aldermen in the area wasn't sure he should take the signatures seriously, saying he didn't think the businesses had enough information about the plan.

Chloe Riley says that Tuesday's meeting got a little heated:

The signatures were presented to Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) at a heated meeting Tuesday night, in which about 80 people showed worried their property values could go down.

The meeting at the Alhambra restaurant, hosted by neighborhood group the Randolph/Fulton Market Association, revolved around the city's Fulton/Randolph District Plan, a proposal that would landmark 125 buildings in the West Loop. 

That proposal recommends virtually eliminating residential zoning along Fulton Market from Halsted Street west to Ogden Avenue, but also pushes large-scale business and residential zoning (with the potential for 15-story buildings) near the new Morgan Street "L" stop, from Halsted Street west to Racine Avenue.

Business owners whose properties would be affected by the historic designation criticized the plan's community process to date, with many questioning the city's selection process for landmarking the buildings.

"My family's been here for 60 years and we were here when there were prostitutes and drug dealers on the street," said Angelo Tsilimigras, whose family owns several properties along Randolph Street. "We built up the street and now the city's trying to take our rights away."

"This isn't communist China, okay? This is America," Tsilimigras said. 

"We're confused. Who picked the buildings?" asked Morlen Sinoway, a West Loop designer with a business at 1052 W. Fulton Market. "It's like a dart game. You've got some here and some there. There's buildings that are a lot more historically significant than my personal building ... that are not designated as historical buildings."

Planning Department representative Matt Crawford responded that the buildings had been selected partially via a survey of area businesses. 

Design recommendations for the plan — which give context for the design and density of the area — were approved July 17 by the Chicago Plan Commission. Previously, on April 3, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks also gave preliminary approval to the historical landmark recommendations.

Burnett, though, has requested a delay so further public hearings on the landmarking proposal could take place, meaning the commission will take a final vote on the plan in December. The plan still needs final approval from City Council. 

At one point Tuesday evening, Roger Romanelli, executive director of Randolph/Fulton Market Association, produced 66 signatures from business owners who object to their buildings being landmarked. 

Burnett responded that he didn't take the signatures "seriously," saying he wasn't certain the business owners thoroughly understood the plan.

"When people give me petitions or they give me answers about things when they don't know everything, it's hard for me to take it seriously. I have to make sure you all know everything first," Burnett said. 

Romanelli's association also took issue with a proposal to spend $500,000 on at gateway marker at Fulton Market and Halsted Street. The money, Romanelli said, would be better spent on traffic lights at both that intersection and the intersection at Lake and Morgan streets.

Burnett replied that plans for a traffic light at Lake and Morgan streets is already in the works, but said he would not budge on the gateway. 

"We put gateways up all over the city, it's not that big of a deal. A gateway is a great thing," the alderman said.