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After Little Village demolition debacle, alderman wants option to revoke tax breaks

Ald. Mike Rodriguez wants to allow Chicago to revoke tax breaks when developers commit “egregious violations of law ... that jeopardize the health, safety and welfare of the surrounding community and the city as a whole.”

The demolition of a smokestack at the Crawford power plant on Saturday sent dust billowing through the Little Village area.
The demolition at the Crawford power plant Easter weekend covered the Little Village neighborhood in dust.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Following the botched demolition of an old power plant that left Little Village coated in dust Easter weekend, a Chicago alderman wants the city to have the power to rescind a tax break for developers who put residents’ health and safety at risk.

At a City Council committee hearing Friday, Ald. Mike Rodriguez, whose 22nd Ward includes Little Village, presented a resolution to begin a process allowing Chicago to revoke potentially millions of dollars in tax breaks for projects in which developers “betray the public trust by engaging in egregious violations of law or acts that jeopardize the health, safety and welfare of the surrounding community and the city as a whole.”

After the hearing, Rodriguez said he sponsored the resolution because of residents’ concerns following the dust cloud. He plans to introduce an ordinance to set up a process for rescinding the tax breaks, which are granted by Cook County. The city can ask county commissioners to revoke tax credits but Chicago first must pass its own ordinance that sets up such a process.

Rodriguez said his resolution is aimed at Hilco Redevelopment Partners, which can receive $19.7 million in tax breaks for the Crawford project over 12 years. The power plant is being demolished to make way for a warehouse distribution center for Target. The city fined Hilco $68,000 for pollution violations stemming from the April demolition debacle.

“We’re starting this process to hold them accountable,” Rodriguez said. He called the developer a “bad actor” and added that “we’re trying to restore justice to the Little Village community.”

The tax break in question is officially a Class 6(b) incentive, given to real estate developers who revitalize blighted areas and create jobs. Last year, almost 1,700 real estate parcels in Cook County received reduced property assessments under the program, a spokesman for the county assessor’s office said.

In a statement, Hilco said the tax incentive “benefits local residents and is used to encourage developers to take on complex projects that would otherwise remain obsolete and often contaminated.”

Cook County Commissioner Alma Anaya said she began researching the tax breaks about a year ago after becoming concerned that developers weren’t living up to their commitments. She was also concerned the county board had little oversight.

“Developers should be held accountable,” Anaya said. These incentives “should not be used to harm communities, to violate their trust, to violate their right to breathe.”

Both Anaya and U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia provided letters supporting Rodriguez’s resolution, which was not voted on during the hearing of the council’s Committee on Economic, Capital and Technology Development.

In her letter, Anaya referenced the Little Village demolition, saying Hilco’s “carelessness, lack of transparency and failure to communicate with residents leading up to the implosions was unquestionably unacceptable.”

“Our neighborhoods have tolerated a high concentration of industrial businesses that has compromised the air quality and consequently the health of community members,” Garcia said in his letter.

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