Little Village dust storm leads to proposed new demolition rules

Mayor Lori Lightfoot promised to review city law on such demolitions after the destruction of an almost 400-foot smokestack blanketed the community in dust Easter weekend.

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Protestors outside of the Crawford Power Plant in Little Village, Friday, June 5th, 2020.

James Foster/For the Sun-Times

The city would require a public meeting, notification of nearby residents and a sign before any implosion demolition takes place under a proposed ordinance from Mayor Lori Lighftoot.

The proposal follows Lightfoot’s promise to review city law on those demolitions after the destruction of an almost 400-foot smokestack at an abandoned plant in Little Village blanketed the community in dust Easter weekend.

After the incident, the city issued citations carrying $68,000 in fines against developer Hilco Redevelopment Partners and its contractors. The developer is destroying the former Crawford coal-fired power plant to build a distribution warehouse for retailer Target at 3501 S. Pulaski Road. Days after the debacle, Lightfoot said that the city had a flawed process for approving such demolitions and she vowed to fix it.

“I want the residents of Little Village to know that we hear you and we understand your anger,” Lightfoot said at the time.

Echoing an earlier sentiment from community organizers, Meleah Geertsma, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the proposal Tuesday “too little, too late.”

Lightfoot’s plan requires notification to all residents and property owners within 1,000 feet of a proposed implosion demolition and requires more City Hall scrutiny of any permit application.

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The proposed ordinance also calls for a public meeting, hosted by and paid for by the demolition applicant, no less than 30 days and no more than 60 days after a permit application is submitted. A sign that is at least 4 feet by 8 feet with at least 6-inch lettering would be required to be posted near the demolition site.

The permit would still be issued by the Department of Buildings but applicants would also be required to get a license for the use of explosives from the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection. Both departments will have to sign off on any implosion plan and each plan would be required to include provisions for health and safety, hazardous materials, dust mitigation, community notification and other factors. Five other city departments — Fire, Public Health, Transportation, Water Management and Office of Emergency Management and Communications will also be required to sign off on each plan.

This type of demolition, requiring explosives, is actually very rare, according to city officials.

The last implosion demolition was in 2007 when the former Brach’s Candy building was destroyed for the filming of the Batman movie “Dark Knight,” according to the city. Prior to that, Chicago Housing Authority high-rise buildings were imploded in the late 1990s, a city spokeswoman said.

“This new ordinance ensures that, going forward, the use of explosives in demolitions follows the strictest and most up to date rules and regulations,” Lightfoot said in a statement, “and that the community is notified and wholly engaged before any such action is approved.”

The seven city departments are required to write draft rules within the next 150 days. Those rules will be posted for public comment for at least 60 days. Each department has the option of holding public hearings.

Ald. George Cardenas (12th) is expected to introduce the ordinance Wednesday.

Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22nd) also filed his proposed ordinance to create a process that would allow the city to revoke tax breaks for developers who “jeopardize the health, safety and welfare” of Chicagoans. Rodriguez told the Sun-Times last week that he planned to sponsor the legislation because of concerns about tax incentives awarded to the Hilco project.

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.

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