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$6 City Land Sale On Hot West Town Block OK'd Despite Neighbor Objections

By  Alisa Hauser and Alex Nitkin | June 15, 2017 2:02pm | Updated on June 15, 2017 2:12pm

 The city Plan Commission Thursday unanimously signed off on a measure to allow the sale of six city-owned lots for $6 to a developer who will build a half-dozen affordable single-family homes in West Town.
The city Plan Commission Thursday unanimously signed off on a measure to allow the sale of six city-owned lots for $6 to a developer who will build a half-dozen affordable single-family homes in West Town.
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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser

CITY HALL — The city Plan Commission Thursday unanimously signed off on a measure to allow the sale of six city-owned lots for $6 to a developer who will build a half-dozen affordable single-family homes in West Town.

Despite opposition from residents of Erie Street who had concerns about the look of the homes, the commission passed a resolution supporting a proposed city ordinance that would authorize the sale of the land at 2327-2341 W. Erie St. to developer Luis Castro of Humboldt Park-based L & MC Investments.

The sale must be approved by the City Council.

Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) who supports the sale, said he was "very excited" about the proposed homes. The Humboldt Park alderman said the homes and future inhabitants would bring "economic diversity" to that area of West Town.

The three-bedroom, 2,500-square-foot homes would list for $247,000, and the buyers must stay in their home for at least 15 years.

RELATED: $1 Per Lot Sale For Affordable Homes Infuriates West Town Neighbors

"When I started working on this in 2014, that was before an election. The people who were against it spoke, the people in favor spoke. And we prevailed," Maldonado told the commission.

As a candidate, "I promised that I was going to pursue that dream of bringing about economic diversity to that area of West Town" because "true middle-class families deserve that opportunity," Maldonado said.

Now demolished city-owned building in 2300 block of West Erie Street in West Town. [Bob Miller]

The homes would be earmarked only for individuals or families earning no more than 120 percent of the city's median income, which based on the current formula would be $66,360 per year for an individual.

Maldonado pointed out that in the private sector, many single-family homes, including some in the 2300 block of West Erie Street, are selling for more than $1 million.

"What better use for public land owned by the taxpayers of the City of Chicago to provide six homes, so that truly middle-class families can come live there and call those homes their own? Maldonado asked.

The alderman said he received emails that were "very negative" about people who possibly were going to be living in the homes. 

"So we reached the conclusion to say that $247,000 for that area is an affordable price," said Maldonado.

He challenged any notion that the project would bring "bad elements or bad families to that neighborhood."

"This will provide families earning $94K a year to be able to afford a home there. So I urge you to pass it," Maldonado told the members of the Plan Commission.

At a community meeting earlier this week, a large part of the discussion with Castro and some 20 neighbors, who live in a mix of ranches, two-flats and modern mansions, centered on the design of homes.

Neighbors objected to the homes' vinyl siding and lack of garages, among other things.

A rendering of the homes proposed for the $6 lots. [DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser]

"We are concerned that these homes will lower surrounding property values and will not fit in with the character of the new homes in this area. We wanted to work together with the alderman on a solution for this land since we care about our neighborhood and will be impacted directly," neighbor Julie Sawicki said.

Sawicki, who bought a fixer-upper ranch home on the street 13 years ago, testified at Thursday's hearing along with two of her neighbors, Jason Vargas and James Daley. 

A real estate agent, Sawicki estimated the value of the lots at $3 million and questioned the wisdom of selling the desirable six-lot swatch of land for $6 at $1 per lot.

"We have a lot of neighborhoods in this city where people require housing. We have children dying in the streets from bullets who are trying to move. So, if you have a plan that takes $3 million worth of land and sells for one dollar, I ask you to think about logic behind that. How much further can $3 million go? How many more families can he house in $3 million worth of affordable housing?" Sawicki asked.

The land has been empty since 2009, when the city closed a rodent control location and later demolished the facility in June 2011, according to neighbors who say they have been discussing the future of the land with Maldonado since at least 2012.

After the hearing, Vargas said he felt like the Plan Commission had "the voting wrapped up" before it started.

Vargas and other neighbors sent an email to DNAinfo after the hearing, outlining design elements they would like to see incorporated into the proposal for the new homes, including fences, concrete or steel stairs instead of wooden ones, and a strong plumbing/sewage system that can withstand some of the flooding challenges on the street.

"We felt that they took our concerns and turned it into an economic argument," said Vargas. "We want the homes to align with the quality of the homes around the neighborhood."