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Mayor urges preservation of multiunit housing in Pilsen and along 606 trail

Two ordinances aim to discourage teardowns or renovations that reduce density in two areas dealing with gentrification.

St. Procopius Catholic Church and Thalia Hall at Allport and 18th streets would be part of a special zoning district in Pilsen.
St. Procopius Catholic Church and Thalia Hall at Allport and 18th streets would be part of a special zoning district in Pilsen.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

Following through on promises to restrict development that displaces lower-income residents, Mayor Lori Lightfoot proposed ordinances Wednesday to preserve multiunit buildings in parts of Pilsen and on some blocks along the 606 trail on the North Side.

The ordinances aim to discourage developers who replace small apartment buildings with single-family homes whether through renovation or demolition followed by new construction. The City Council referred both measures to its zoning committee.

Eugenia Orr, spokeswoman for the city’s Housing Department, said the proposals would “maintain the existing character and housing stock, specifically two- to six-unit buildings, that often provide naturally occurring affordable housing units.”

The Pilsen plan marked a new approach from City Hall to deal with the area’s gentrification pressures. The Department of Planning and Development had proposed a landmark district covering a stretch of 18th Street, but residents said that might push them out if they couldn’t afford to keep up buildings by exacting architectural standards. The plan died Dec. 1 when all aldermen in a committee hearing voted against it.

The new Pilsen proposal covers blocks on either side of 18th Street generally from Peoria Street and Newberry Avenue to Western Avenue. The corridor would be called a Multi-Unit Preservation District where in most cases a detached house or two-flat could not be built.

For the 606 area, the ordinance would create “predominance of the block” rules for certain zoning classifications. A detached home or a two-flat could be built only if most properties on the same block are of that character.

It would cover blocks along the 606, also called the Bloomingdale Trail, generally between California and Kostner avenues.

Paul Colgan, spokesman for the Home Builders Association of Greater Chicago, said the ordinances “need work” and upend traditional zoning practices in the city. Builders would have to get a zoning change to build something that otherwise would be allowed, he said.

“We think this is the wrong solution. They should be focused on incentives to get the results they want rather than taking away people’s property rights,” Colgan said.

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.
A proposal would create “predominance of the block” rules along The 606 trail to slow gentrification.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file