Jefferson Park housing project gets green light despite residents' objections
Loud protests from residents weren't enough to prevent a city panel from approving a zoning change that will allow a controversial mixed-income housing complex to be built in Chicago's Jefferson Park neighborhood.
On May 22, 45th Ward Alderman John Arena pushed through the proposal that authorizes the creation of a seven-story apartment complex meant to provide affordable, steeply subsidized housing options for residents who are disabled or veterans.
Arena has said the plan is a way to bring affordable housing to a neighborhood that has been historically only single-family homes.
John Garrido, who ran against Arena in 2015, told the Chicago City Wire that Arena’s actions were clearly unilateral.
“The alderman never included the community in the planning process,” Garrido said. “He lied to the plan commission, the committee on zoning and the full City Council to improperly down-zone the property over a year ago. He concealed the fact that there was a lawsuit that ultimately ended up in a settlement agreement requiring him to support a plan that was never introduced to the community for input.”
Matt Podgorski, chairman of the Northwest Side GOP, characterized the feelings of the constituents of the 45th Ward as being dramatically different from Arena’s interests in down-zoning Jefferson Park for the housing complex and other projects.
“A vast majority does not want these extreme densities,” he said. “I have not done a poll, but I would guess it's 90 percent or more against turning Jeff Park into Wicker Park-style congestion. The neighborhood has woken up. Arena is toast in 2019. Hopefully, he won't do too much further damage in the meantime.”
Amelia Kessem, a 45th Ward resident, has other issues with Arena's plan.
“The problem with all of this 'density' and increasing the population in this particular area is that his 'vision' – his term not mine – is not at all what a substantial number of citizens on the north end of his ward support,” Kessem said.
She alleges that in the process of getting the project approved, Arena intimidated a developer who had a stake on the plot of land being developed.
“This was the outcome of what many believe to be an underhanded, behind-the-scenes deal that he was able to coerce out of a developer after illegally yanking the valid permits his company had acquired to retrofit an existing building and bring a new business to the area, which could have generated a decent amount of taxes for the city of Chicago," Kessem said. "Apparently, that wasn't good enough for him.”
Kessem said she confronted Arena about whether he has a stake in the developments he helped approve.
“Arena claimed he pulled those [project] permits 'to start a conversation' with the developer because he didn't know who owned it,” Kessem said. “That was a complete lie! See, I'm also a Realtor, and fortunately, I have the ... ability to look up who pays the taxes on any property in Cook County. So you can imagine my surprise when he made that statement to me.”
In early April, a video surfaced that appeared to show Arena was never interested in collaborating with developers during the process of passing the proposed development.
The housing complex is planned for a plot of land at 5150 N. Northwest Highway.