Pilsen Landmark District voted down in committee

The Pilsen district would’ve given landmark status to over 900 buildings, primarily on 18th Street between South Leavitt and South Sangamon streets making it the city’s largest landmark district. But no aldermen voted for it.

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Thalia Hall, at South Allport and West 18th streets in Pilsen, is among hundreds of buildings that would have been included in a Pilsen Landmark District.

Thalia Hall, at South Allport and West 18th streets in Pilsen, is among hundreds of buildings that would have been included in a Pilsen Landmark District.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

A contentious proposal to add landmark protections for hundreds of buildings in Pilsen failed to win approval from a Chicago City Council committee Tuesday morning.

The tally in the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards: 18 aldermen voting no, and zero voting yes.

The Pilsen Landmark District would’ve given landmark status to over 900 buildings, primarily on 18th Street between South Leavitt and South Sangamon streets, making it the city’s largest landmark district and first in a Latino-majority neighborhood. The designation would’ve protected buildings constructed from 1875 to 1910.

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But longtime building owners have seen the proposal as a threat, fearing it would increase the displacement of longtime residents and promote gentrification.

Maurice Cox, commissioner of the city’s Department of Planning and Development, initially backed the proposal but pulled his support ahead of the vote.

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th), whose ward would have included the district, has opposed the proposal and instead would like to see a “demolition free district” to curb gentrification. He said he had over 500 affidavits from building owners against the designation.

1332 W. 18th St. in Pilsen, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020.

1332 W. 18th St. in Pilsen.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“Landmarking only protects buildings … there is a path forward, but we need to make sure that we start by listening to our constituents, our residents. This is an opportunity we have to change a horrible legacy,” Sigcho-Lopez said. “It pains me to see residents, neighbors, that day in and day out, come into our office struggling with property taxes. That are struggling to pay their bills as a small business owners.”

Sigcho-Lopez’s said his proposal for a 6-month demolition moratorium in Pilsen would help alleviate the pressure of developers coming into the neighborhood, but that proposal also was voted down by the committee, 10-6.

The failure to pass either the landmark designation or the moratorium on demolitions means the buildings of Pilsen remain unprotected.

During public comment, several people took the time to share their thoughts on how a landmark designation would affect the community.

Adriana Diaz spoke about her family’s roots in Pilsen and how her mother owns a home that would become a landmark. Diaz said this designation would only force her mother to sell her home, due to the additional expenses a landmark designation would impose.

“A reasonable person would argue that if you designate Pilsen a historic district a second wave of displacement would occur because people like my mother would not be able to keep up with the exacting standard of the historic district,” Diaz said.

“Therefore, a seemingly innocuous policy such as this one is at its core insidious in nature, because it only exacerbates the gentrification process,” she added. “Why are we valuing bohemian entire buildings over people’s lives?”

Her biggest concern was that simple renovations or repairs on landmark homes will be cost-prohibitive, due to special permit requirements, and that those high maintenance costs would ultimately push people out.

Cox said the city regulates only the exterior of buildings, such as the type of windows or roofing shingles. He said Pilsen could craft specific guidelines that would benefit longtime building owners.

Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, showed his support for the proposal during public comment.

“We believe in our heart of hearts is the best and most lawful, tried and true, and reasonable paths to protecting one of Chicago’s most vulnerable and historically significant communities from destruction, displacement and upheaval,” Miller said. “The proposed Chicago landmark district of 900 buildings would not only protect the fabric and the buildings of the community but also its residents.”

1314 W. 18th St. in Pilsen, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020.

1314 W. 18th St. in Pilsen, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

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