City explores moving controversial McKinley Park asphalt plant

Residents have been complaining about the operation for years, but owner Michael Tadin Jr. says he hasn’t discussed a move with Chicago officials.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s chief sustainability officer cited an asphalt plant that opened directly across from McKinley Park two years ago as an example of an industrial zoning issue that would get more public scrutiny under the mayor’s proposed ordinance.

MAT Asphalt opened in McKinley Park in 2018.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Chicago planning officials are exploring whether a McKinley Park asphalt plant owned by a politically connected businessman can be moved to another location following two years of numerous complaints from neighbors. 

In a letter to developers of a proposed affordable housing project near MAT Asphalt on Pershing Road, Chicago Department of Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara said that the city’s Department of Planning and Development “is investigating alternative locations” for the business “that are more appropriately located” and away from schools, homes and the community’s namesake park.

The letter was sent after Novara recently rejected a request to fund the housing project that would create 120 affordable apartments in one of the historic buildings constructed over a century ago for the Central Manufacturing District on Pershing Road. Novara cited the planned apartments’ proximity to the asphalt plant as a reason to reject funding needed for the redevelopment. 

In her letter, sent via email Friday, she said the asphalt plant is close to two schools and the park, which is across Pershing Road from MAT.

“We are hopeful that should an alternative location be arranged, we can revisit the funding decision for what would undoubtedly be a major benefit to 120 low-income households and the entire McKinley Park community,” Novara said in her letter. 

Michael Tadin Jr., MAT Asphalt’s owner, said he hasn’t had discussions with the city about moving and questioned where his business would go. 

“Where are you going to find 13 acres?” Tadin asked, referring to the size of his current operations. 

Tadin, a city contractor, also owns a construction company. He’s the son of Michael Tadin Sr., a longtime supporter of former Mayor Richard M. Daley and a beneficiary of Chicago’s Hired Truck program.

Ald. George Cardenas, whose 12th Ward includes McKinley Park, said he would support the city relocating the plant.

“If the city has the funds to relocate the plant, I’m in,” Cardenas said. “It’s a no brainer.”

The alderman said he strongly favors the housing development and is exploring other ways to provide city funding, potentially through tax increment financing.

In her letter to the affordable housing developers Tom Brantley and Hipolito “Paul” Roldan, Novara noted odors from the plant and said there have been more than 50 inspections by city officials related to the smells from MAT. Three violation notices were issued, she said. Truck traffic from the asphalt operation added diesel emissions, she added.

Novara, who was unavailable for comment, also referenced a 2018 environmental report “that illustrated the disproportionate impact of air pollution and health hazards in Chicago neighborhoods like McKinley Park, a largely working-class Latinx community.”

The letter also pointed to a community group’s criticism of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency that said the agency should have done a more thorough review before the plant opened to analyze the impact it would have on an “environmental justice” community already burdened with pollution issues.

“Environmentally, locating affordable housing next to an asphalt plant would be a terrible decision,” said Mary Lu Seidel, director of community engagement for Preservation Chicago and a proponent of the restoration of the historic buildings. 

The developers say they were surprised in recent weeks when city officials began expressing concern about new housing next to an asphalt plant. Talks about the project have been ongoing for two years, they said, and the area is in need of new affordable housing.

“While I’m sure any attempt to relocate the asphalt plant would be much appreciated by those concerned, it does nothing to solve the unacceptable lack of affordable housing in McKinley Park and in other predominantly Hispanic communities,” Brantley said. 

One community group said the city’s approval of the asphalt plant is part of a bigger problem of concentrating polluting industries in Latino and Black neighborhoods.

“MAT Asphalt should never have been built here,” said Anthony Moser, a member of Neighbors for Environmental Justice.

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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