Judge denies restraining order to halt demolition on Northwest Hwy. site, but appeal expected




by BRIAN NADIG

A Cook County Circuit judge has denied a request for a temporary restraining order to stop the demolition of half of the former archdiocese food plant at 5150 N. Northwest Hwy., but plaintiffs say they will file an appeal this week.

A five-story storage warehouse and a seven-story, mixed-income housing development are planned for the 1.54-acre parcel.

The restraining order request was filed on Oct. 6 on behalf of plaintiffs in a pending lawsuit that objects to a settlement agreement on a previous lawsuit, which led to the site’s current development plans. The earlier lawsuit was filed against the city by the site’s owner, LSC Development, which claimed that the property was improperly downzoned to halt initial plans for only a self-storage facility there.

The industrial building would be demolished in two phases, as construction of the housing project would start in 2018 at the earliest, while construction of the storage warehouse could start this fall on the northern half of the parcel. Both the city and state have denied the requests for low-income housing tax credits for the housing project, but the developer, Full Circle Communities, is exploring other funding options.

Alderman John Arena (45th) praised the judge’s decision. “Opponents have tried every frivolous legal maneuver they can think of to block this housing that is accessible and affordable for veterans and people with disabilities in our community,” Arena said. “I’m confident that the proposal remains on firm legal footing. I am committed to continuing to work toward bringing economic investment and quality housing options to the Northwest Side.”

The 100-unit housing project would include 30 Chicago Housing Authority and 50 affordable housing (below-market rate) apartments. Arena has pledged to bring at least 50 new CHA units to the ward by early 2019 in an effort to help end what he has described as segregation in the ward’s neighborhoods.

One of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs, Northwest Side Unite, claims that the development would be too tall and dense given the area’s existing problems of school overcrowding and traffic congestion and that housing for veterans and the disabled would be welcome as part of a scaled-back development. The group has collected about 6,000 signatures on a petition against the development.

“We remain committed to representing our community’s concerns about the high-density zoning that was done behind closed doors to create a 75-foot-high storage facility. It will be entirely out of character in our low-scale neighborhood and will set an unwarranted precedent for future large developments, including multiple other high rises discussed by consultants at the (recent Jefferson Park) master plan meeting,” Northwest Side Unite said in a statement.

Group members said that an appeal of the judge’s ruling will be filed by the end of the week and that the temporary restraining order would only apply to where the self-storage facility would be built, as the pending demolition permit does not apply to the entire site. Additional zoning approval is required for the housing portion of the development.

The Northwest Side Unite’s lawsuit alleges that city officials violated zoning laws by agreeing to rezone the property to accommodate both storage and housing projects without first notifying the public and holding hearings. The settlement agreement requires Arena and zoning administrator Patricia Scudiero to support the rezoning.

LSC was issued a construction permit in April of 2016 to convert the existing three-story building on the site into a storage facility, but the permit was voided the next day. Arena has said that a storage facility by itself on the property would do little for improving the area’s economic vitality.