FEB 16, 2022
Approved rescue bid for shuttered West Side Aldi spurs debate on DPD acquisition policy
Ald. Jason Ervin discusses a plan to buy a shuttered Aldi site in West Garfield Park during a meeting of the City Council housing committee on Tuesday.
A City Council committee green-lit a plan on Tuesday for the city to swoop in on a closed West Garfield Park grocery store site to alleviate a food desert, but not before aldermen grilled city planning officials over what the deal will mean for Chicago’s land intervention policy moving forward.
The council’s Committee on Housing and Real Estate voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to advance a plan (O2022-401) by the Department of Planning and Development for the city to spend $700,000 to acquire the site of a closed Aldi store at 3811-41 W. Madison St. in the 28th Ward. The purchase would be furnished with revenue from the Madison/Austin tax-increment financing district.
The Aldi at the site “abruptly closed” last October, leaving “a large vacant store in the center of the Madison commercial corridor” and “a big hole in the amount of grocers available in the neighborhood,” planning department project coordinator Michael Parella told committee members on Tuesday.
The planning department “desires to have acquisition authority to actively facilitate returning a new neighborhood grocery store or a similar use with community support,” Parella said. “By controlling the site, [the department] can work with neighborhood residents to find a community-supported end user or grocer,” potentially by issuing a Request for Proposals.
Ald. Jason Ervin (28) urged his colleagues to support the plan, saying it’s “something the community has been asking for” and is “in the best interest of the city.”
“People in that community need a grocery store to provide the basics of life,” Ervin said, adding that the closest grocery is about two miles away from the site. He said a city-backed effort to revive the site would “play into the revitalization” of the Madison Street corridor following the opening of a new roller rink at Madison and Pulaski Avenue with the help of state grants and the launch of a new West Garfield Park Special Service Area this year.
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Neighboring Ald. Walter Burnett (27) called the Aldi site “pivotal” for the busy Madison corridor, saying city leaders should do anything they can to “sustain it.”
But Burnett and multiple other aldermen said they were surprised to see the planning department so quickly jump on a redevelopment proposal when the administration had rebuffed similar pleas for help in their own wards.
“If I’m getting beat up in my neighborhood when I have a building and a store shuttered, and my residents are looking at me saying, ‘What is Alderman Ervin doing that you’re not,’ they could think I’m not fighting,” Ald. David Moore (17) said. “If the city is going to set a precedent on this, great. But it has to be from a policy standpoint citywide, not just as one-offs.”
Ald. Greg Mitchell (7) agreed, saying he had “the exact same situation” play out in his ward several years ago when an Aldi closed, and “the building has just sat there” ever since.
And Ald. Anthony Beale (9) slammed city planning officials for committing to buy the property “on a wing and a prayer” before they had lined up a new grocer to operate the space.
“You never want to put the cart before the horse,” Beale said. “The proper way to do this is to find a user, find someone who’s going to go in there and maintain that property and pay taxes.”
Ald. Raymond Lopez (15) asked housing committee chair Ald. Harry Osterman (48) to hold the acquisition item from a vote until the planning department showed its official “criteria” for when it would intervene to buy a vacant property.
“The department has been very consistent with its application,” Lopez said. “And I’m not necessarily comfortable with the fact that we’re going to approve this now and find out what the criteria is later.”
Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26) disagreed, saying he has “an issue with having a similar consistent policy for every single ward, because we’re all different.”
And Osterman rebuffed Lopez’s call to delay the vote, citing “a sense of urgency” to fill the food desert.
After about 30 minutes of debate, the proposal cleared the committee with a sole dissenting vote from Lopez.
Pilsen lot acquisition
The committee also voted Tuesday to approve a separate planning department proposal (O2022-428) authorizing the city to buy the 6.25-acre lot bounded by 16th, Peoria, 18th and Morgan streets in the 25th Ward so that it can be redeveloped for affordable housing. City leaders plan to tap tax-increment financing for the $12 million acquisition cost of the lot, which has been owned by New York-based developer Property Markets Group for more than six years.
The site has been frozen in a legal battle since 2016, when former Ald. Danny Solis (25) down-zoned the lot to block a proposal Property Markets Group to develop the lot into a more than 400-unit mixed-use complex. The developer sued the city in 2018, calling Solis’ move illegal.
But city housing officials announced in December that the out-of-town developer had agreed to drop its lawsuit if the city bought the property out from them.
Approving the ordinance will allow the city to “purchase and remediate the property with the goal of delivering hundreds of new affordable housing units to the Pilsen neighborhood,” Parrela said Tuesday. He said city planning officials are pushing to close on the acquisition this spring so they can issue a Request for Proposals in the fall and pick an affordable developer by the end of the year.
City housing officials have said they will require at least 280 affordable homes to be included in any winning proposal.
Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25), who vocally opposed the Property Markets Group proposal before he was elected in 2019, said Tuesday that the city’s latest proposal has “overwhelming community support.”
Aldermen advanced the plan unanimously.
The committee also unanimously approved all other land transactions included in The Daily Line’s preview of the meeting, including three sales of city-owned vacant lots to neighbors.
After being pressed by aldermen, planning officials said two of the land sales in Douglas (O2022-388) and North Lawndale (O2022-392) took about two years after the buyers applied before they reached the committee.
Aldermen have complained about the web of city and state environmental rules they say have unreasonably delayed sales of city-owned vacant lots to neighbors.
Osterman said the planning department is “working on a robust offering” to streamline the process.
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