PILSEN — After a feud over the future of Pilsen's largest vacant site, a prominent developer has closed a deal for the lot and laid out plans that include residential units — despite the alderman's vehement efforts to block residences there just last year.
The sale of a 7.85-acre site between 16th and 18th streets and Newberry Avenue and Peoria Street owned by The Midwest Jesuits to developer Property Markets Group has officially closed, Noah Gottlieb, principal of Property Markets Group, confirmed to DNAinfo.
In a statement, Gottlieb said the development team plans to build a "vibrant, mixed-use residential and commercial district" at the site.
"We are excited to begin the next chapter of the project and will be releasing details on an updated development plan shortly," Gottlieb said. "We are determined for the site to become an example of private interest coexisting with social responsibility."
Gottlieb declined to answer additional questions Wednesday night.
It's unclear how Gottlieb plans to develop residential properties at the site with its current zoning, or if he is working to rezone the property. In a feud over future development at the prominent site that borders University Village, Ald. Danny Solis (25th) worked to rezone the property to its original industrial use in summer 2016, blocking a previously planned residential development by Property Markets Group.
At the time, Solis, a veteran alderman who serves as chairman of the Committee on Zoning, said the move would allow time for the community to develop the best plan for the 7.85-acre site.
On Thursday, Solis said he hasn't changed his mind on the site's zoning.
"I haven't changed my mind. I can talk [to the developer], but I'm not going to rezone it for them to do a residential development, not without concessions," Solis said. "It's probably the biggest space now that's available in all of Pilsen and I want to make sure that we do something exceptional there, not just allow a developer to build a bunch of units there, make money and leave."
Solis said any residential project on the site would have to include more affordable housing, more green space and more commercial uses than what Gottlieb's development firm has previously pitched.
Solis made the move to rezone the property after the developer announced in April 2016 that it would still develop the property without a zoning change, potentially building 300 apartments on site.
The developers came to that decision after the Pilsen Land Use Committee nixed their plan to build 500 apartments at the site in February. The sticking point that led the committee to deny the 500-unit project plan was Pilsen's stringent affordable housing mandate, which requires any development of eight or more units that requires a zoning change to provide 21 percent affordable housing.
After the zoning change, Solis said in September 2016 the property could still be developed into housing after all — affordable housing — by affordable housing non-profit The Resurrection Project.
Solis said any new plan for the site must include more than 21 percent affordable housing and be less dense than the 500-unit project previously pitched by Property Markets Group.
Alliance demands transparent process
Demanding transparency in the development process, Byron Sigcho, executive director of Pilsen Alliance, said the developer should pitch new plans for the site in a meeting that is open to all Pilsen and University Village neighbors, with Solis and Pilsen Land Use Committee members in attendance. Currently, the Pilsen Land Use Committee reviews projects and makes a recommendation to Solis, and community-wide public meetings on new developments are not held.
"The community wants to discuss this, and there should be more community feedback," Sigcho said. "This is not a battle for a handful of organizations and the alderman."
In May 2015, Pilsen Alliance protested the Midwest Jesuits' planned sale of property in front of the Roman Catholic order's headquarters, calling the plan "gentrification on steroids." Meanwhile, some University Village neighbors who live nearby pushed for the long-vacant site to be developed soon.
Pilsen Alliance also hosted two town hall meetings on the future of the site last year.
In spring 2015, Property Markets Group had revealed plans to develop 500 apartments on the vacant Pilsen property. The developer wanted a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units at the site.
The proposed development site was owned by The Midwest Jesuits, who bought the land for $6.5 million in 2009.