Video casts doubt on Arena's contact with developer
A video recently posted to YouTube might have added fuel to the fire already putting heat on 45th Ward Alderman John Arena, who is mired in controversy over his support of a plan for additional subsidized housing in Jefferson Park.
The video, posted by a user identified as Gina Sanchez, shows Arena discussing his downzoning of the property at 5150 N. Northwest Highway, which was purchased by LSC Development LLC. It also highlights a series of paragraphs from what appears to be LSC’s lawsuit against the City of Chicago, Building Commissioner Judy Frydland and the Department of Buildings.
“Can I ask you in the interest of honesty and transparency, when this developer, LSC, purchased 5150, and had permits to build something within the current zoning ... why did you have those permits pulled and downzoned to where they couldn’t do what they wanted to do ... when they have to what seems to be a legal right to put their business in there?” an offscreen voice asks Arena in the video.
“There was no contact between me and the investors at LSC,” Arena responds. “We were trying to find out who owned the property because it changed hands.”
As revealed in the video, the lawsuit asserted that Arena willingly ignored representatives of the company as he continued through a process to downzone the property. The only successful contact from LSC representatives was made to Arena’s chief of staff.
LSC argued that it requested a meeting with Arena, but the staff offered the company’s representative a date that would have occurred after Arena pushed through legislation following through with the downzoning.
Arena was also accused of lying to the plan commission, saying that at the time of his proposal, the 5150 lot was not owned by a developer. In fact, LSC had purchased the lot and arranged the building permits months earlier.
The lawsuit was settled and Arena agreed to follow through with the project, even though many of his constituents opposed it, as it includes the construction of a seven-story subsidized housing building.
When asked in the video whether he would represent his constituents, Arena responds that “that’s not how I make decisions.”
Matt Podgorski, the Republican committeeman for the 39th Ward, said that Arena doesn’t care about the people of his ward.
“Alderman Arena simply does not care what a vast majority of his constituents want.” Podgorski told the Chicago City Wire. “He was counting on his voters to be apathetic and not notice his maneuvers over the past year. Let's be honest, people don't have time to monitor an alderman's every move and follow all the details. We tend to hope our elected officials are out there working in our best interests. This time he got caught with his hand in the cookie jar.”
Podgorski said he thinks Arena’s aldermanic career might be at an end.
“I can't imagine that he is planning on running for a third term,” Podgorski continued. “But if he does, you will see the community unite against him just as we are uniting against his seven- to 12-story apartment building at 5150 Northwest Highway. I can't tell you how many people have told me over the past three months that they voted for John Arena for alderman in 2015, but now they are really embarrassed about it.”