PILSEN — In a battle over the future of Pilsen's largest vacant site, Pilsen groups are now calling the developer who bought the prominent property by a new name — "Trump Junior."
In a letter sent to DNAinfo Monday, 11 Pilsen groups slammed Property Markets Group Principal Noah Gottlieb, referring to him as "Trump Junior" — a reference to new President Donald Trump. Property Markets Group recently bought a vacant 7.85-acre property between 16th and 18th streets and Newberry Avenue and Peoria Street and plans to develop a "mixed-use residential and commercial district" at the site.
"We are extremely perturbed by the secret negotiations that have taken place between the Jesuit Providence of the Midwest and Noah Gottlieb, [New York] developer and principal at Property Markets Group or 'Trump Junior' as he is known in some community circles," the Pilsen groups wrote. The full letter is below.
In response, Gottlieb refuted the groups' characterization and said he is no fan of Trump.
"I find our current president and his policies absolutely disgusting. This shouldn’t be about me, this is about what we can accomplish together," Gottlieb said in a statement.
In the majority-Hispanic neighborhood that welcomes immigrants, the last thing Pilsen needs is a "Trump Junior" to displace immigrant families as gentrification continues, the Pilsen groups wrote.
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"At a time when a New York developer has taken over the White House, creating fear in immigrant communities, the last thing Pilsen needs is for 'Trump Junior' to further jeopardize Pilsen’s strong immigrant integrity by displacing working immigrant families," the letter read.
The letter is signed by 11 influential Pilsen organizations: The Resurrection Project; Alivio Medical Center; Centro Sin Fronteras; Chicago Commons; Eighteenth Street Development Corporation; El Hogar del Niño; El Valor; Gads Hill Center; UIC's Instituto del Progreso Latino; Mujeres Latinas En Acción; and Pilsen Neighbors Community Council.
The letter was sent by non-profit The Resurrection Project, who aimed to develop affordable housing at the site. The group's executive director Raul Raymundo also chairs the Pilsen Land Use Committee, which approves new development in the neighborhood.
Gottlieb said he will release plans for the site soon "and address this issue head on."
"We request that everyone keep an open mind until that time. Our actions will speak for themselves," Gottlieb said. "We are determined for the project to become an example of development guided by social responsibility. We fully understand the importance of the second half of that commitment; specifically as it relates to existing resident displacement and affordability."
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The Pilsen groups' anger wasn't solely reserved for the developer. The groups wrote that they were "equally disturbed" that for three years the Midwest Jesuits have "refused to listen to the community and never took into consideration the neighborhood concerns." The Midwest Jesuits previously owned the land, which was bought for $6.5 million in 2009.
The groups wrote that it was "insulting" for Pilsen leaders to find out through the media that the deal had closed.
"We welcome development, but not at the expense of the displacement of residents. Our contributions as Mexican/Latino immigrants who followed the legacy of other immigrants that founded this community must be respected," the letter reads.
In a statement, Midwest Jesuits spokesman Jeremy Langford said Property Markets Group entered into a contract to buy the Pilsen property in 2013, and closed on the property on Jan. 18.
"Property Markets Group has assured the Province that [it] is committed to a process that includes engaging the Pilsen community about the proposed plans," Langford wrote.
Raymundo said that Midwest Jesuits claimed to have "an iron fist" letter of intent from the developer that prohibited them from talking to other parties interested in the site.
Developer Property Markets Group now owns a vacant 7.85-acre site in Pilsen. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
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 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 made the move to rezone the property after the developers announced in April 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 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.
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 and Pilsen 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.
Pilsen groups letter to editor by DNAinfo Chicago on Scribd