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Developer Proposes Off-Site Affordable Housing In Huge Pilsen Lot Battle

By Stephanie Lulay | June 9, 2017 8:59am
 Pilsen resident Xochyl Perez holds a sign that reads
Pilsen resident Xochyl Perez holds a sign that reads "Move Over Pancho, Whitey's Coming" in protest of the planned ParkWorks development in Pilsen at a meeting Wednesday night.
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DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay

PILSEN — As the battle over the future of Pilsen's largest vacant site rages on, a prominent developer revealed new plans to build more than 450 apartments at the site. 

At an open house in Pilsen this week, Property Markets Group pitched plans for "ParkWorks," a mixed-use residential and commercial development next to the planned Paseo Trail. The development would include 465 apartments, PMG developer Noah Gottlieb said. 

Under plans, the developer plans to dedicate 100 units as affordable housing, a combination of units on site at the proposed new development and other units Property Markets Group plans to buy off site. Gottlieb would not say how many units would be dedicated on site. 

The units would be priced for individuals and families who make 60 percent of the Area Median Income or below. 

At units bought off site, Property Markets Group would freeze the rent for 30 years. The move would aim to keep nearby residents from being displaced in the gentrifying neighborhood, Gottlieb said. 

"[With] our on site units, we would target families... working families," Gottlieb said. "That is our goal." 

A prominent developer wants to build "ParkWorks," a mixed-use residential and commercial development at Pilsen's largest vacant site, though the property is currently zoned for industrial use only. [Property Markets Group]

Studio, one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom units are planned on site, and the market-rate apartments would rent for $1,000 for smaller units to $3,000 for family-sized units, Gottlieb said. 

The project would be built in three phases over a period of five years, Gottlieb said. 

In addition to new residences, the development will try to bring new business, resident amenities and an art walk project on Peoria Street. It also will have public courtyards, rooftop gardens and solar panels.

If approved, two-thirds of property employees will be staffed from within the neighborhood and one-third of retail workers at the new development will be hired from Pilsen. The development could also create local construction jobs, Gottlieb said. 

A site plan shows what the ParkWorks development in Pilsen could look like. [Property Markets Group]

The proposal includes about 10,000 square feet of retail space, which could employ as many as 100 people, Gottlieb told Curbed.

PMG bought the vacant 7.85-acre site, located between 16th and 18th streets and Newberry Avenue and Peoria Street​, in January. 

Despite Ald. Danny Solis' (25th) move to block residences on Pilsen's largest vacant site last year, PMG unveiled new plans for the parcel in April. But the developer's pitch video at the time didn't reveal how many units were planned on site or what percentage of affordable apartments were planned on-site. 

The developer will host two more open houses on the project Tuesday and Wednesday. Neighbors can register for the open house online. 

Watch the developer's full pitch video below. 

ParkWorks Development for Chicago from Architizer on Vimeo.

Neighbors react 

Holding signs that read, "Move Over Pancho, Whitey's Coming" and "Gentrification is ethnic cleansing," a small group of Pilsen Alliance members protested outside the open house, contending that the project threatens to "change the social fabric of our community."

Byron Sigcho, executive director of Pilsen Alliance, said the developer's promise to dedicate affordable housing off site isn't enough. Pilsen Alliance is pushing for 100 percent of the housing on site to be dedicated to affordable housing. 

"We have thousands of families that have been displaced," Sigcho said. "It's not outrageous to say we want all affordable....Luxury housing is not something we are going to compromise with." 

Gottlieb said Pilsen's stringent affordable housing mandate has prohibited privately-funded affordable housing units to be developed in Pilsen. 

Left: Property Markets Group developer Noah Gottlieb talks to residents at the meeting. Right: Pilsen Alliance Executive Director Byron Sigcho asks Gottlieb questions at the meeting. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]

Pilsen resident Hilario Dominguez was born and raised in Pilsen and his family has a long history in the neighborhood — his grandparents and parents emigrated to the neighborhood from Michoacan, Mexico in the 1970s. The 21 percent mandate is designed "to protect us from the gentrification that has happened in other neighborhoods... Logan Square, Humboldt Park," he said. 

"[Pilsen] was a port for the immigrants... and because of that, our neighborhood has a identity and culture of being Latino. If you walk down 18th Street, these are Mexican families, Latino-owned businesses, people that have built their lives here," said Dominguez, a 24-year-old teacher. "We have to do what we can to protect what we built."

Left: Pilsen resident Hilario Dominguez talks to a neighbor at the open house. Right: Pilsen resident Bernardino Echeverria hold a sign at the open house Wednesday. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]

Meanwhile, some University Village neighbors who live just north of the site are pushing for the long-vacant land to be developed soon.

University Village neighbor Janet Dietz, who moved to the neighborhood a decade ago, said the vacant site is "an eyesore." 

"It's a dead zone," Dietz said. Bringing more residents to the area "will enliven 18th Street, which is dead in those two or three blocks." 

About 150 people have signed a petition in favor of developing the site.

"Empty lots provide no benefit to our neighborhoods, and development would bring much-needed density to local businesses as well as additional tax revenue for the city," the petition reads. 

Dave and Janet Dietz have lived in University Village for a decade. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]

Officials demand more affordable housing 

Because of a needed zoning change, the battle over the future of the prominent Pilsen site is still uncertain. 

Raul Raymundo, chairman of the Pilsen Land Use Committee, said the developer has yet to formally present its proposal to the land use committee for review. The committee has had no other official communication with developer regarding the latest proposal, Raymundo said. 

"There are no negotiations taking place," Raymundo, who also heads The Resurrection Project, a non-profit that has worked to developer affordable housing in Pilsen, wrote in an e-mail Thursday. "PMG understands the process, requirements and the 21 percent affordable housing on site set aside criteria of the PLUC." 

Solis, Pilsen's alderman, said he is not interested in talking with developers until they agree to provide 21 percent affordable housing on site. 

"There's nothing for us to talk about," Solis said Thursday. "He has a position. I have my position. I'm not interested in his position, and I'm not going to change the zoning." 

In a feud over development at the site that borders University Village, Solis rezoned the property to its original industrial use last summer, blocking a previously planned residential development by Property Markets Group. 

Solis, who serves as chairman of the City Council's Committee on Zoning, said the zoning change would allow time for the community to develop the best plan for the 7.85-acre site. After the developer bought the site, Solis said he wouldn't change his mind on the site's zoning. 

"I'm not going to rezone it for them to do a residential development, not without concessions," Solis said at the time. "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." 

RELATED: Developer Buys Giant 8-Acre Pilsen Site For Housing; Alderman Promises A Fight

Solis made the move to rezone the property after the developer announced in April 2016 that it would develop the property without a zoning change, potentially building 300 apartments there. 

The developer came to that decision after the Pilsen Land Use Committee rejected its plan to build 500 apartments at the site in February 2016. The sticking point that led the committee to deny the 500-unit project 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. 

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." 

In spring 2015, Property Markets Group revealed plans to develop 500 apartments on the vacant Pilsen property. At the time, the developer wanted a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units at the site. 

RELATED: Pilsen Groups Slam Developer As 'Trump Jr.' After He Buys Big Vacant Site

Affordable housing mandate 

Around 2005, at the request of the community, Solis and the land use committee developed a mandate requiring a minimum of 21 percent of all new developments to be designated as affordable housing units. The rule applies to new developments of 10 or more units that seek zoning changes from the city or use city land or subsidies, Solis said.

Solis' 21 percent mandate — which only applies to Pilsen, not other parts of the 25th Ward — is double the city's mandate requiring 10 percent of new developments to be affordable housing units. Developers can also skirt the city's rules by opting to make a payment to a city affordable housing fund. 

"It's true that no other [area] in the city is asking for 21 percent. It's unique to Pilsen," Solis said. "But that's what the community wants and what I feel the community needs." 

The Pilsen Land Use Committee has relaxed the Pilsen affordable housing rules in some cases where the developer offered another significant community benefit. 

The land use committee is composed of representatives from the Resurrection Project, the Pilsen Neighbors Community Council, 18th Street Development Corporation and Alivio Medical Center. 

The city defines affordable rental housing as an apartment that is affordable to households earning up to 60 percent of area median income. 

If approved, "ParkWorks" would be built at Pilsen's largest vacant site. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]