Ald. Sigcho-Lopez files complaint against Mayor Lightfoot over rezoning of Pilsen church
The alderman accused the mayor of taking cues from the Archdiocese and Cardinal Blase Cupich over what parishioners are asking for — a transparent process for the future of the St. Adalbert Church property.
Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) has filed a complaint against Mayor Lori Lightfoot with the city inspector general’s office, accusing her of intervening in a zoning matter to favor the Archdiocese of Chicago over his constituents.
On May 24, Sigcho-Lopez successfully got his long-sought plan to downzone St. Adalbert Church, 1650 W. 17th St., from residential to public space through the city’s Zoning Committee, but it faced scrutiny during a City Council meeting the next day and has been put off until next month’s council meeting.
“Mayor Lightfoot has taken it upon herself to intervene despite this being vetted in committee, so I don’t understand why she is intervening in a 25th Ward item,” Sigcho-Lopez told the Sun-Times. “We need Lightfoot to focus on important matters like addressing violent crime and stop meddling in what we want to see in our community.”
The council member accused Lightfoot of taking cues from the archdiocese and Cardinal Blase Cupich over what parishioners are asking for — a transparent process for the future of the church and property.
Archdiocese spokeswoman Susan Thomas said Cupich didn’t contact the mayor regarding the matter.
Sigcho-Lopez’s complaint accuses the archdiocese and a lobbyist of “pushing a real estate deal without any communications to our office, parishioners or residents, despite multiple attempts, including a formal request to meet and discuss plans for the site. Other affluent communities are given meetings and consideration all the time.”
Sigcho-Lopez said Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), who chairs the Zoning Committee, told him Lightfoot pushed to defer the rezoning.
Tunney and the mayor’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment Friday.
“I would like the inspector general to check with the archdiocese’s lobbyist because this move simply favors a developer rather than the Mexican and Polish parishioners that want a transparent process for what to do with St. Adalbert,” Sigcho-Lopez said.
St. Adalbert was built by Polish immigrants in the early 1900s and opened its doors to parishioners in 1914. It was announced in 2016 the church would close, and on July 14, 2019, St. Adalbert held its last Mass.
Sigcho-Lopez said the move to downsize the church from residential to an open space designation would ensure the community has input in what happens to the church, which has been left deteriorating.
City Law Department attorney Lisa Misher previously told the Zoning Committee it was unusual for the property to be downzoned in this manner.
“Parks and open space essentially eliminate all development rights and converts the property to effectively an open space, almost for public use,” Misher said.
She said even though the property is a church and has inviting characteristics, it remains a private property, limiting the government’s reach of what it can order its owners to do.
Eric Wollan, chief capital assets officer for the archdiocese, said they would seek a legal remedy if the council approves the downsizing.
“We view this as the city taking ownership of the property, and there is no ability for the property to be redeveloped other than to make it an open space,” Wollan said. “If that is the city’s interest, to take the property and infringe on our property rights, then we will move to protect that for the parish.”
Wollan called the alderman’s action “unnecessary,” arguing it would leave the building empty and further deteriorating.
“The redevelopment and reuse of St. Adalbert is ultimately a positive for the community,” Wollan said. “It doesn’t displace anyone; it is not harmful in any way.”
Wollan said there wasn’t any stipulation the next owner would be barred from tearing the church down. Restoring the church could cost $30 million to $40 million, he said.
“Just stabilizing the church and fixing the exterior is a $4 to $5 million investment,” he said.
Julie Sawicki, president of the Society of St. Adalbert, has fought to save the church since its announced closure over five years ago. She called it a “slap in the face” to the Mexican and Polish community that city officials aren’t doing more to preserve the church.
She accused the archdiocese of “lying” about the restoration cost. Architects and contractors, she said, had visited the church and estimated the job could be done for under $6 million.
“The church and property were built by immigrants who turned it over to the diocese for stewardship,” Sawicki said. “They were poor stewards, and now they want $4 million for it.”
In 2019, it was reported that a real estate firm entered a contract to buy the church for $4 million, but that deal fell through.
“Public and open space zoning is not a perfect zone, but that’s OK. It is enough to deter real estate developers from tearing down the church and building a massive real estate project,” Sawicki said. “It doesn’t matter what the downzone is. It is the spirit of it to deter any buyers.”