Lack of quorum spells limbo for disputed apartment construction
The Chicago City Council Zoning Committee effectively put a hold on Ward 45 Alderman John Arena's plans for a much-debated storage facility in his Jefferson Park neighborhood when after a seven-hour meeting not enough panel members were still around to vote.
Arena wants to build a massive storage facility and a seven-story, 100-unit, high-rise subsidized housing project in the heart of the neighborhood at the corner of Northwest Highway and Milwaukee Avenue.
It turned out Alderman Ed Burke had other plans, heeding the demands of residents present at the March 27 committee meeting by moving to take a roll call to determine if enough members remained for a quorum. There weren't, and Burke quickly moved to adjourn the meeting.
The committee typically defers to alderman when it comes to such matters in their neighborhoods, but after area residents turned out in droves to make their displeasure known, Burke stepped in.
With Arena vowing to continue pursuing the project, Jefferson Park residents know their battle is far from over.
Residents have filed a lawsuit contending that the community has been denied the right to due process in what they describe as Arena's backroom dealings to get the project off the ground.
“We will fight for our neighborhood to the end,” Kerri Urbanski, who has lived in the neighborhood for 40 years, told the Chicago City Wire.
Urbanski said she has helped coordinate the collection of more than 5,000 signatures from area residents against the plan. She also attended a recent pizza fundraiser where at least $8,000 was raised to go along with another $12,000 raised on Go Fund Me to challenge Arena.
Some in the neighborhood are concerned about density and how additional residents could impact overcrowded schools and congested roads. The proposed project doesn't fit the character of the neighborhood, Urbanski said.
To her, the greatest concern is the alderman's unwillingness to include the community and to compromise. Two weeks before the first and only community meeting on the project, Arena signed a legal settlement with LSC Development LLC that paved the way for an even larger project.
"Looking back on the community meeting, he was dismissive and disengaged with the people there voicing their concerns," she said. "He had already bargained away the residents' rights to due process in zoning."
She said rather than involving the community in the decision, Arena has reacted to constituents with hostility.
"I've never seen an elected official yelling and screaming and name-calling," Urbanski said.
Meanwhile, some Jefferson Park area residents have also formed a political action committee with the goal of unseating the two-term Arena in 2019.
Organizers of Citizens Against John Arena recently filed paperwork with the IRS to pave the way for the group to begin raising funds to mount a challenge.
“We want to do something that goes beyond just protesting,” Matt Podgorski, one of the PAC’s leaders and a Northwest Side GOP club member, said. “We want to send the alderman a message and at the same time set up a candidate to run against him.”
Arena has showed no signs of ending his expansion crusade. He recently took to Facebook to blast critics of the plan.
“Go ahead... Move to Indiana and live in a third-world economy,” he chided one constituent during a recent Facebook exchange about the city’s spate of tax increases. “(Expletive) schools and low wages. And read a newspaper or something... Rail against everything but offer no ideas and think only of yourself. Time to grow up and be part of society.”
Editor's note: The original version of this story mischaracterized residents' concerns about the building proposal. This has been corrected.
Organizations in this Story
Jefferson Park, Chicago, IL, United States
121 South La Salle Street
Chicago, IL 60604
60 East Van Buren Street
Chicago, IL 60605