CHICAGO (CBS) — The new alderman of the 25th Ward is vowing to slow down plans for a proposed landmark district in the rapidly gentrifying Pilsen neighborhood, amid concerns among homeowners and business owners who feel the effort is happening behind their backs.
Pilsen’s 18th Street is alive with the sights and sounds of one of Chicago’s more vibrant immigrant communities. It’s where Rigoberto Gonzales has stitched together a successful business repairing sewing machines, while living in the small apartment building he owns.
A unanimous vote in May by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks has recommended the neighborhood around him be turned into a landmark district. The designation covers a 1.5-mile stretch of 18th Street, and several blocks bounded by 18th Street, Ashland Avenue, 21st Street, and Racine Avenue.
The move has taken Gonzales and other residents by surprise.
“People is afraid, because people is not trusting what is going on,” he said. “It’s something I didn’t ask for. We never asked for that.”
The proposed landmark district would be the largest in Chicago, including 850 buildings in Pilsen, reflecting not only its Hispanic present, but its eastern European past. In the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, many homes and storefronts are Baroque-inspired construction, built between 1875 and 1910.
However, many buildings within the proposed landmark district, including Memo’s Chicago Style Hot Dogs. are not the Baroque gems city officials have said they are trying to save.
“If you look at this building from the outside, nothing happened here during whatever period of time. No historical significance whatsoever. It is not special at all,” Memo’s co-owner Gerardo Garza said.
Garza said he’s worried not only about the added costs of maintaining a landmark building, but that landmark status would make it more difficult to sell the property.
“There’s a socioeconomic impact that comes with something like this,” he said.
This all seems to be happening so fast, but the city has been considering the landmark district proposal for some time, and it’s easy to see why. The problem is, relatively little effort was made to let Pilsen residents know what’s happening.
“There was a lot of technical discussions, but without the residents,” said freshman Ald. Byron Sigcho Lopez (25th).
Sigcho Lopez said the landmark district effort took him by surprise.
The newly-elected alderman blamed the lack of transparency on his predecessor, Daniel Solis, who is cooperating with a federal corruption probe that resulted in the indictment of Ald. Edward Burke (24th). Solis stepped down as chair of the City Council Zoning Committee in January, and stopped attending City Council meetings, after it came to light he had worn a wire for the FBI for two years.
Sigcho Lopez has scheduled ward meetings on the landmark proposal, and has vowed to hold off a final approval vote in the City Council.
“We are going to take our time until we get it right,” he said. “When we talk about preservation, we’ve got to make sure that these residents are not burdened by the costs of preservation.”
“That’s why people is kind of afraid. Wait a minute, why are you doing this without telling me?” Gonzales said.
Sigcho Lopez has scheduled a community meeting at his Ward office for 6 p.m. on July 11 to discuss the next steps.