Pilsen alderman wants proposed historic district scrapped

“It became clear that landmark designations do not preserve people and communities, they merely protect buildings,” Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) said.

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These three buildings at 18th and Laflin streets would have been among hundreds included in a proposed Pilsen Landmark District.

Pilsen’s alderman wants to scrap plans for a historic landmark district that would cover hundreds of properties.

Carlos Ballesteros/Sun-Times file

Pilsen’s first-term alderman wants to scrap a proposed historic landmark district that would cover hundreds of buildings in the neighborhood, claiming it would hurt efforts to stave off high-end development and the displacement of working-class residents.

Instead, Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) wants to create a “demolition free district” that covers the same area as the proposed historic landmark district plus the site of St. Adalbert’s Church, 1650 W. 17th St.

The ordinance introduced Tuesday would prohibit the city from issuing permits to developers for demolitions, major projects and “deconversions” — the combination of two or more housing units to make a single unit — without Sigcho-Lopez hosting a public meeting about the changes first.

Sigcho-Lopez would submit an opinion on the permit application 30 days after the public meeting to the Department of Planning and Development. The department can then issue the permits regardless of Sigcho-Lopez’s opinion.

The ordinance will get a hearing at the next Zoning Committee meeting. If approved by the full City Council, the new rules would run through June 1, 2023.

The “demolition free district” would do a better job of giving Pilsen residents a say in development projects, Sigcho-Lopez said.

“It became clear that landmark designations do not preserve people and communities, they merely protect buildings, often at the expense of longtime, working-class residents. This solution put forward today is best suited to protect the social fabric of Pilsen, including its residents, homeowners and landlords,” Sigcho-Lopez said in a statement Tuesday.

The Landmarks Commission approved the creation of a historic landmark district in Pilsen last year covering around 850 buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

In a letter to Planning and Development Commissioner Maurice Cox, 13 community groups based in Pilsen last week came out against the landmark district, arguing it adds “very little intrinsic value in combating gentrification pressures” and “does little to address the shortfalls of affordable housing the community is facing.”

A spokesman for CityPads, the development company in talks with the Archdiocese of Chicago to buy the shuttered St. Adalbert’s Church, declined a request to comment.

Carlos Ballesteros is a corps member of Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South Side and West Side.

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