CHICAGO — In an unprecedented step for city leaders, the City Council's zoning committee will convene an ad-hoc meeting to hear a beleaguered proposal to build a five-story storage facility in the heart of Jefferson Park, Ald. John Arena (45th) announced on Facebook Friday.
The proposal had been queued among dozens of development plans set to pass before the committee next Tuesday, but Arena requested the special meeting to "ensure as many voices are heard as possible" in a debate that's engulfed the Northwest Side since the plan's unveiling earlier this year, he wrote.
The plan sailed through the Chicago Plan Commission on March 16, but Ald. Ed Burke (14th) stepped in to block its passage in the zoning committee on March 27, citing questions over a legal agreement between city officials and LSC Development LLC that formed the basis for the proposal.
Burke has since settled his concerns with the city's Law Department, according to a spokesman for Arena.
Arena had asked last month to push back the proposal's date with the zoning committee — originally set for April 12 — until this Tuesday, saying that he "wanted to make sure neighbors have abundant time to ask any questions and voice any concerns." Now the decision will be delayed one more time, with committee chair Ald. Danny Solis (25th) set to announce a date for the special meeting next week, according to Arena.
Arena has invited a second developer, Full Circle Communities, to build a 100-unit mixed-income apartment complex on the other half of the property at 5150 N. Northwest Highway, which is owned by LSC Development. The apartment developers have not yet submitted their proposal, which they say would prioritize veterans and people with disabilities, for planning or zoning approval.
In another departure from precedent, committee members will allow public testimony to address the apartments proposal during the special meeting, Arena said. At the March 16 commission meeting, the dozens of speakers who aired opinions on the storage warehouse were asked not to mention the affordable housing component, forcing them to tiptoe around an issue that has brought a wave of enmity to the overall plan.
The alderman also wrote that he plans to call another meeting with the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association, a community group that's been steadfast in its opposition to the development, along with several other apartment buildings proposed in the ward.
A separate opposition group, Northwest Side Unite, plans to hold a "unity rally" at 11 a.m. Saturday at the site of the proposed development to decry "being locked out of the planning process" for the warehouse and apartments, according to an announcement. Incorporated as a nonprofit organization earlier this year, Northwest Side Unite raised thousands of dollars to fund a lawsuit aimed at hobbling the proposal.
Victoria Aviles, the group's president and co-founder, said Friday that she welcomed the committee's decision to set aside extra time for debate on the issue.
"We're happy that Ald. Solis had the foresight to understand that more conversations need to be had about this on the community level," Aviles said. "We're thankful that he's stepped in to give us the platform and space to work together and seek the compromise that we've asked for all along."
But Solis signaled his broad support for the proposal in a statement of his own on Friday, writing that he "applaud[s] Ald. Arena ... for his steadfast work to bring more accessible housing for veterans, people with disabilities and working families into his ward."
The also-nascent community group Neighbors for Affordable Housing in Jefferson Park responded in their own statement Friday that they "do not give any credence to complaints that opposition to the proposal is 'not being heard,'" but they too are "pleased" with the decision to branch the issue into its own meeting.
"We are pleased to have the opportunity to sit down with Alderman Arena to discuss the need for affordable, accessible, integrated housing in our neighborhood (a need the current proposed scale for 5150 N. Northwest Hwy only begins to address)," the statement read.
The affordable housing advocacy group sprang up in February as a coalition of "Northwest Side residents, allies, and stakeholders in the fight for affordable housing," according to Sara Gronkiewicz-Doran, the group's co-founder.