CITY HALL — Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) blasted fellow Far Northwest Side Ald. John Arena (45th) at City Hall on Thursday for supporting a five-story storage warehouse and a seven-story 100-unit mixed-income apartment complex over the objections of some residents.
Napolitano — whose 41st Ward shares a southern border with Arena's 45th Ward — appeared with members of Northwest Side Unite at a City Hall news conference where members of the recently formed group said they had been unfairly tagged as racists for objecting to the proposal.
"We are not racist because we oppose a development," said organizer Trisha Kannon, who said the "skyscraper" at 5150 N. Northwest Hwy. was approved in a "backroom deal" brokered by Arena despite the objections of thousands of Jefferson Park residents. "It does not fit in with our bungalow community."
A City Council committee is set to consider the project at a special meeting set for 2 p.m. Monday.
Arena said he was proud of the "comprehensive community engagement process" his office established to allow residents of the 45th Ward to weigh in on the proposal.
"I’ll continue to seek guidance from my constituents and put their voices and interests above all else," Arena said in a statement.
The building is simply too tall for Jefferson Park, Kannon said, adding that it should be no more than four stories tall. A debate over whether Jefferson Park should remain a suburban-like haven or allow denser developments near transit hubs and business districts has been roiling for years.
Without mentioning Arena by name, Napolitano criticized his efforts to shepherd the project through the city approval process and said the project on the site of a vacant former food processing facility on Northwest Highway would have a detrimental impact on the surrounding wards.
“I ran for office because our neighborhoods are tired of elected officials not listening to residents,” said Napolitano, who was elected in 2015 despite Mayor Rahm Emanuel's support for his opponent. Coincidentally, Emanuel also opposed the re-election of Arena.
In addition, Napolitano said aldermanic privilege — which gives aldermen the final say on projects in their wards — should only be used to approve projects that are not controversial.
"There has been more than a bit of pushback," Napolitano said.
In response to Northwest Side Unite's City Hall press conference, members of Neighbors for Affordable Housing in Jefferson Park also addressed the media outside the Council Chambers.
Organizer Sara Gronkiewicz-Doran said opponents of the seven-story apartment complex were motivated by "unvarnished bigotry."
The apartment complex — which developer Full Circle Communities has yet to formally ask city officials for approval — 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.
Nick Kryczka, who supports the development, said city officials next week will "face a clear choice — whether to open Jefferson Park to new neighbors" and bolster the effort to help low-income Chicagoans find adequate, affordable housing.
Gronkiewicz-Doran said opponents of the apartments' were using concerns about the height of the building as a "convenient cover."
Opponents of the development interrupted the news conference by supporters until a reporter asked them to allow him to do his job and act with courtesy.
The introduction of the development at a meeting in February created an immediate firestorm, with most of the attendees who spoke excoriating the complex's affordable housing component, saying it would threaten homeowners' property values and attract crime to the relatively safe neighborhood.
Napolitano first criticized the Jefferson Park project in February in remarks to a DNAinfo reporter, violating the longstanding practice of aldermen refraining from opposing developments outside their wards supported by that ward's alderman.
Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd), the council's fourth most senior alderman, said he had never seen one alderman violate the unwritten rules of the council so blatantly.
“The freshman alderman from the 41st Ward should focus on his own ward and stay out of the 45th,” Munoz said.
Munoz also criticized Napolitano for "claiming to be a patriot" but opposing a project where the developer has vowed to prioritize veterans and to strive to set aside half the units for former members of the military.
In January, Napolitano agreed to block a proposal to build a 30-unit condominium complex at Oliphant Avenue and Northwest Highway in Edison Park after dozens of neighbors warned that the building would clog the streets and pour newcomers into the tight-knit neighborhood.
"People invest for generations into these neighborhoods, and I refuse to put anything in my ward that the community doesn't want ... So for me to come in and say ‘We’re going to build this thing, because I have a better vision than you do?' I would never do that in a million years," Napolitano said in February.