Ald. Napolitano discusses state of the 41st Ward
by BRIAN NADIG
Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st) is asking residents to take an online survey as part of an effort to create a master plan for the ward that will serve as a roadmap for area development.
Napolitano discussed a variety of ward issues during a state of the ward speech at the Feb. 19 meeting of the Norwood Park Historical Society held at the Noble-Seymour-Crippen House, 5624 N. Newark Ave.
"You’re the one who is going to decide, and you’re the one who will be held accountable for these decisions," Napolitano said. He added that some residents want change while others "like things the way they are." Napolitano said that the survey results would impact potential development changes, especially when it comes to the ward’s business districts.
The master plan survey is available at www.surveymonkey.com/r/ masterplan41, and a hard copy is available at the 41st Ward service office, 7442 N. Harlem Ave.
One resident at the meeting raised concerns that landlords who are not interested in selling or leasing their storefronts are thwarting the revitalization of the ward’s business districts.
Napolitano said that he experienced this problem when he looked into opening the ward office in Downtown Edgebrook. Part of the problem is that owners of vacant commercial properties are eligible for "vacancy reductions" on their property assessments, resulting in a signifying reduction in their property tax bill, he said.
Napolitano said that for potential developments that require a zoning change, developers must bring their proposal to the ward’s zoning advisory committee, consisting of representative from neighborhood groups. The committee was started in the early 1990s by then-alderman Brian Doherty. The committee’s votes serve as a recommendation to the alderman.
Napolitano said that the committee holds at least two meetings on each proposal and that except for one instance, he has always followed the committee’s recommendation. In 2018 Napolitano opposed a proposed 297-unit apartment near Higgins and Cumberland avenues despite the committee’s earlier approval of the project, following what he described as a groundswell of opposition months after the committee’s vote.
In some instances, developers drop their plans prior to going to the committee.
"I think I do a good job telling them what the community wants and doesn’t want … I’ll let them know it’s not going to fly in this neighborhood," Napolitano said, describing himself as a "single-family home type guy."
Currently, aldermen control local zoning issues due to a longstanding practice called "aldermanic prerogative," which Mayor Lori Lightfoot has threatened to take away. On nearly all zoning votes in the City Council the aldermen vote the wishes of the local alderman whose ward is being affected by changes.
Napolitano said that most aldermen do not want to give up control of zoning to "a bureaucrat" and that those decisions should be left to the elected official, who ward residents can hold accountable in the next election.
Concerns were raised at the meeting about the future of the campus grounds of the Saint Thecla Church, 6725 W. Devon Ave., after the parish is shut down and merged with Saint Tarcissus and Saint Cornelius parishes in the summer. The last services at the church are expected to be held no later than November.
Napolitano said that the Archdiocese of Chicago has indicated to him that after the parish closes there will be a "yearlong moratorium" on any potential sale of the property. He said that "we’re hoping" the site is used by another school but that the site’s current zoning would restrict any new development to single-family homes.
Also at the meeting, Napolitano said that side-street resurfacing is "a difficult and daunting task" given the limited number of available funds each year. "We have probably over 200, maybe 275 streets that could be resurfaced yesterday," he said.
Each ward is allocated $1.32 million for discretionary infrastructure improvements each year, allowing for no more than "16 to 19" blocks to be resurfaced, Napolitano said. Resurfacing one block costs between $71,000 and $79,000, he said.
The annual allocation has not changed in about 25 years even though the resurfacing price increases at least 3 percent each year, Napolitano said.
Napolitano also praised the work of the ward’s new representative on the O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission, Frank Icuss. The commission is assigned the task of reducing jet noise in communities near the airport. Residents can send questions to Icuss at 41oncc@gmail. com.