CHICAGO — A pair of new neighborhood groups flexed their organizing muscles in Jefferson Park over the weekend, forming ranks on opposite sides in an explosive battle over a new housing development being proposed in the heart of the neighborhood.
Northwest Side Unite and Neighbors for Affordable Housing in Jefferson Park both formed earlier this year, but they have taken competing positions on a controversial proposal to build a storage warehouse and 100 mixed-income apartments on the site of a vacant former food processing facility at 5150 N. Northwest Highway.
The five-story storage facility is now lurching through the city approval process, wading through a tangle of legal challenges and hobbled by multiple delays. Originally scheduled for zoning approval on Tuesday, the project was delayed when aldermen announced plans last week to consider the project at its own meeting.
But it's the adjacent apartments, proposed by the developer Full Circle Communities, that have made war zones out of community gatherings and online comment sections since the plan's unveiling at a riotous Feb. 9 meeting. Full Circle, still in the process of raising money for the development, has yet to submit a design for planning or zoning approval.
The seven-story apartment complex would rent 20 units at market rate and up to 30 units for residents from CHA wait lists. The rest would be held for tenants making between 30 and 60 percent of the area median income — roughly $25,000 to $45,000 per year.
At least 10 units would be built explicitly for wheelchair-users, and the operators have vowed to reserve at least half the apartments for military veterans and people with disabilities.
Jefferson Park is home to about 2,800 disabled residents, according to U.S. Census data.
'A quieter, lower-density area'
On Saturday, Northwest Side Unite claimed 300 participants in what group founder and president Victoria Aviles called a "unity rally" with "a diverse crowd representing our community, to let the city know that we're worth listening to."
Neighbors waved signs with printed slogans like "United we stand" and "good neighbors work together." Multiple speakers decried a plan whose "traffic and safety issues" had yet to be addressed, they said.
Incorporated as a nonprofit organization in March, Northwest Side Unite sprang out of a massive grassroots crowdfunding effort to sue the city over the storage warehouse proposal, which they say arose from an "illegal process" that shut out constituents' input.
Group members have also sought to step back from the debate over affordable housing, instead saying the buildings' height and occupancy make them unbefitting of a neighborhood otherwise dominated by single-family homes.
The group represents "a middle ground of people who do want to see growth and development, but we want to see it done in a responsible way," Aviles told DNAinfo last month. "We feel like the Northwest Side has something to offer as a quieter, lower-density area that's not common throughout the city, and we want to make sure that anything coming through is on board with that community characteristic."
'Each community must do its part'
The backlash to the proposals alarmed some neighbors and housing activists, who consolidated into a Facebook group called Neighbors for Affordable Housing in Jefferson Park. Since its founding in February, the group has built a steady coalition of Northwest Siders and affordable housing advocates in support of the apartments, which they say "only begins to address ... the need for affordable, accessible, integrated housing in our neighborhood," according to a statement they released Friday.
On Sunday, the group led a march from the Jefferson Park Transit Center to the site of the proposed apartments, which they said traced the route of one of the marches from the 1966 Chicago Freedom Movement led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The group laid out Persian rugs and rocking chairs in front of the vacant building, chanting refrains like "No hate, no fear, everyone is welcome here."
"The fight to end segregation begins with housing, and every Chicagoan has a fundamental right to an affordable and accessible home in a safe neighborhood, near quality public transportation and good schools," the group wrote in a Saturday press release. "Deliberate actions caused the racial segregation in Chicago, and only deliberate actions can undo it. We must take concrete steps as a city, and each community must do its part."
The date of the special zoning meeting to consider the storage facility will be announced during Tuesday's meeting, according to committee chairman Ald. Danny Solis (25th).