LITTLE ITALY — What began as a clash of communities led to a pledge for unity between neighbors amid discussions over a planned mixed-income Chicago Housing Authority complex anchored by a new Roosevelt branch library in Roosevelt Square.
While the two-hour meeting Monday at the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame answered few questions, it potentially forged a new partnership between one of the area's newest neighborhood organizations and one of its most resilient.
More than 200 people attended the meeting, which the new Little Italy Chicago Neighborhood Association, or LICNA, framed as a chance to press officials on lingering questions about the composition of the housing types, project timeline and loss of parking as developers ready to break ground by the end of 2017.
But tempers flared as lifelong residents of the former ABLA Homes said they were excluded from Monday's meeting and wanted their voices be heard.
"You're talking like it's not our community. You're talking about you," ABLA Local Advisory Council president Mary Baggett told the LICNA board members. "You're talking about Italians only; you're not speaking for us. You don't know anything about us."
Board members said they'd posted flyers in "every home" along the Brooks Homes row houses, but Baggett said that as both a resident and a leader of the ABLA community, she'd still heard about the meeting at the last minute.
Baggett broke off discussion over parking from the back of the crowded meeting to protest organizers' references to "the community" that she felt excluded the people who will live in Roosevelt Square.
Almost immediately, the meeting devolved into a shouting match between factions, with some on the LICNA side calling for Baggett and her supporters to be kicked out of the meeting or threatening to call the police.
WATCH FOOTAGE OF THE TENSE EXCHANGES HERE:
One man from the ABLA Homes said if it weren't for the planned mixed-income housing above the library being built on Little Italy's main drag at 1350 W. Taylor St., no one would care what happened with Roosevelt Square.
"You guys wouldn't even be having this meeting in regards to parking or anything," he said. "ABLA supports the businesses on Taylor. So when you speak about unity, include ABLA.
"Otherwise," he continued, "we will shut you down just like y'all shut us down. It works both ways."
Finally, LICNA board member Regina Scannicchio extended a hand to Baggett and brought her to the front of the room, agreeing that she deserved to be heard.
"We've got the same problem; you weren't invited, we weren't invited [during the planning stages]," Scannicchio said. "How are we going to fix that?"
"By talking up and speaking up and everybody stepping up to the plate to CHA instead of separating," Baggett responded. "They're the ones we need to set on, because they're the ones trying to divide us and have separate meetings in the separate wards."
Baggett then accepted an invitation to be part of LICNA's board and agreed with Scannicchio that it was time to "start fresh."
ABLA Homes Local Advisory Council president Mary Baggett (left) shakes hands with Regina Scannicchio of the Little Italy neighbors group Monday. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
Although the disruption broke the meeting's pacing, neighbors moved forward with their attempts to dissect what some felt were canned statements from officials meant to evade their direct questions.
After City Council approved $7 million for the project earlier this month, officials expect to break ground on the $36 million, seven-story library and housing complex by the end of 2017.
Construction is expected to take a year, allowing the library to open in December 2018.
The seven-story CHA building would be anchored by a new Roosevelt branch library and feature 73 units of mixed-income housing. [Provided/Connecting4Communities]
Also included this phase of the Roosevelt Square redevelopment are 50 townhouses that will be sold at market rate. Work on the three- and four-bedroom homes will begin in spring 2018 and will be built in pace with how quickly they sell, said Jacques Sandberg, vice president of affordable housing at Related Midwest.
When neighbors asked about just which phase of the redevelopment they were in and what studies had been done on parking and traffic issues, officials said some parts of the plans were still in flux.
"We have not set the hard figures on what the numbers of [parking] slots are going to be for the overall project," said Maya Hodari, a project manager with the CHA. "We can't do that today because that's always evolving. We do it phase by phase."
Officials said the surface parking lot at the building site, 1350 W. Taylor St., will be temporarily relocated to Taylor and Racine, which will also eventually be developed.
When neighbors protested that they needed a permanent replacement on a block with already limited parking, Sandberg said that wasn't his company's responsibility.
"We are providing parking spaces for the people who live in that building," Sandberg said of the 26 parking spaces planned for the building's 73 units and library patrons. "We are not in the position to solve — nor are we charged with solving — the neighborhood's parking issues."
Plans for the Roosevelt Square redevelopment, outlined in black. [Provided/City of Chicago]
Ervin, the only aldermen of the three invited to attend, said the Taylor Street parking lot was always meant to be temporary.
"One point we fail to realize is the parking lot sits on land that belongs to the CHA," Ervin said. "It's land that's dedicated for public housing."
Erving also encouraged neighbors to read through the Roosevelt Square master plan, promising that the answers to many of their questions could be found in the 82-page document.
LICNA members plan to discuss the project again at a Sept. 27 meeting. The meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. in the Our Lady of Pompeii School hall, 1220 W. Lexington St.
READ THE CHA'S ROOSEVELT SQUARE MASTER PLAN: