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Citing legal concerns, Lightfoot halts ordinance targeting rising home prices along 606 trail

Ald. Ramirez-Rosa said he’s puzzled by the mayor’s stance because the freeze was developed in concert with Lightfoot’s own Law Department.

The 606, or Bloomingdale Trail, is a 2.7-mile trail and park, converted from an unused, elevated rail line between Ashland and Ridgeway avenues. It opened to the public in June 2015.
The 606, or Bloomingdale Trail, is a 2.7-mile trail and park, converted from an unused, elevated rail line between Ashland and Ridgeway avenues. It opened to the public in June 2015.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

For the second time in two-and-a-half years, a plan to stop a 50% surge in home prices along the wildly-popular 606 trail has apparently been stopped dead in its tracks.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has put the brakes on the plan introduced last month by a pair of local aldermen to freeze residential development along the popular trail for 14 months.

Aldermen Roberto Maldonado (26th) and Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) want to maintain the status quo to give the city time to devise a long-term solution to the gentrification that is forcing low-and moderate income families out of their homes.

But, Lightfoot said no dice. It’s not legal.

“Mayor Lightfoot is committed to working with the City Council to expand affordable housing in a way that considers the unique needs of every community,” mayoral spokeswoman Eugenia Orr said in an emailed statement.

“After review of the proposed ordinance, there were questions and concerns about the alderman’s proposal, as it would unilaterally ban zoning changes in areas near the 606, as well as halt any building permits in the area. We remain engaged in conversations with Alderman Maldonado and other aldermen in the area regarding potential changes to the draft ordinance.”

Ramirez-Rosa, dean of the City Council’s six-member Socialist Caucus, was surprised and disappointed by the decision made by a mayor who lives in Logan Square, which is ground zero for the city’s affordable housing crisis.

Ramirez-Rosa said he’s puzzled by the mayor’s stance because the freeze was developed in concert with Lightfoot’s own Law Department.

“We need to take action to address the displacement in our neighborhoods and the loss of two- and three-flats in the communities surrounding the 606,” Ramirez-Rosa said.

“What the freeze would allow us to do is assess what is the impact on the surrounding community, what is the data we’re able to collect. It really allows us to study the issue while we continue to preserve the two-and-three flats. ... The community around the 606 in Logan Square is not vacant lots. These are two-and-three flats that we’re losing. They’re being replaced with luxury single-family homes. The freeze is to make sure that we hold the situation steady while we’re able to study the impact and come up with an optimal solution.”

And what happens if the city fails to do something as dramatic as a freeze?

“We’re gonna continue to see under-enrollment in our schools. We’re gonna continue to see cuts to our schools because of the results of cuts in per-pupil funding. We’re gonna continue to see the negative impacts of displacement,” Ramirez-Rosa said.

Later Tuesday, Ramirez-Rosa told the Sun-Times he had “spoken with the administration” and was working on “a few minor changes and hope to have an agreement on language that can pass committee soon.”

”They took issue with characterization ... that they were opposing or putting a stop to the ordinance,” Ramirez-Rosa wrote in a text message.

”I feel good about where we are right now.”

Maldonado could not be reached for comment.

In 2017, Maldonado joined forces with now-former Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st) on an ordinance that would have imposed dramatically higher demolition fees along the trail and impose a new “de-conversion fee” whenever developers try to turn multi-family housing into more lucrative single-family homes.

That ordinance also went nowhere.

At the time, housing prices west of Western Avenue had increased by 48.2 percent since ground was broken on the 2.7-mile urban oasis, according to a study by the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University.

The converted elevated freight right-of-way, officially the Bloomingdale Trail, became known as the “606” because of the common digits of Chicago ZIP codes. It has become a mecca for bicycle riders, skaters, runners and pedestrians. Housing prices east of the trail are up by nearly 14 percent.