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Low-income housing near McKinley Park asphalt plant on cusp of approval

City Housing Commissioner Novara publicly opposed the project last year, citing health concerns. 

Built over a century ago for the Central Manufacturing District, this historic building will house 120 low-income apartments if the City Council approves the plan.
Provided/Fitzgerald

A proposed low-income housing project next to a controversial McKinley Park asphalt plant moved closer to getting city approval even as some of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s top advisers have opposed it.

At the urging of Ald. George Cardenas (12th), the City Council’s zoning committee voted 11-3 to approve a restoration project of two historic buildings, including one for low-income residential, on Pershing Road across from McKinley Park. The two buildings were built over a century ago for the Central Manufacturing District.

The project, which includes 120 affordable apartments, seemed to be in limbo last August when Chicago Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara said the city would not help fund it because of its proximity to the asphalt plant and concern about its impact on residents’ health. At the time, Novara said other City Hall officials also were concerned about the environmental and health impacts related to the plant and said an internal city effort was under way to possibly relocate the plant.

At a meeting Tuesday, Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) asked the zoning committee to delay voting on the project — named “Parkview Lofts” — given that Novara had misgivings about it. Hadden also raised the fact that federal housing officials are investigating the city for a complaint about discriminatory zoning and land-use policies, an action triggered by the proposed relocation of General Iron from Lincoln Park to the Southeast Side.

“I really wish we could push to get more time,” Hadden said in an interview after the committee meeting, “and allow us to get more people to weigh in on the public health side.”

The plant, MAT Asphalt, opened across from McKinley Park in July 2018 over objections from neighbors who continue to complain about odor from the business. According to a letter Novara wrote last year to the project’s developers, the city was looking into possibly helping to relocate MAT because of its closeness to homes, schools and the community’s namesake park. The Latino-majority McKinley Park is considered an environmental justice community because of existing pollution and other factors.

Novara declined to comment.

Meanwhile, the plant’s owner Michael Tadin Jr. says he has no immediate plans to move from McKinley Park. Tadin, a city contractor, said he had conversations with Chicago planning officials about a potential move but nothing has come of them.

“We’re there. We’re operating. We’re servicing the city and providing a product at a competitive rate,” Tadin said in an interview.

“This location was strategic in a sense because of the work MAT Asphalt does on behalf of the city,” Patrick Murphey, city zoning administrator, said during a Chicago Plan Commission meeting last week.

A rendering of an interior in an apartment at a proposed affordable housing building in McKinley Park.
Provided/Fitzgerald

Tom Brantley, one of the developers on the project, said that the building will have an air filtration system in common areas designed to mitigate odors and to protect against viruses, such as COVID-19. The units will range from about $400 for the lowest-priced one-bedroom apartment to about $1,400 for the largest three bedroom. He said he hopes to begin construction early next year.

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