Southeast Side – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop Chicago Community Stories Mon, 08 Jan 2018 18:45:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 SE Side wants to benefit from USX development Fri, 06 Sep 2013 22:16:10 +0000 With nearly $100 million in TIF funds being spent on the first phase of a massive development on the south lakefront, a community summit on Saturday will discuss strategies to win a community benefits agreement for the project.

The Coalition for a Lakeside CBA meets Saturday, September 7, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, 3200 E. 91st.

Jennifer Epps-Addison of the Partnership for Working Families will discuss how community benefits agreements (CBAs) across the country have won opportunities for local workers and communities, and Tom Tresser of CivicLab will present an analysis of all TIFs in three local wards.

The Coalition will also release results of a new survey of Southeast Side residents.

Site developer McCaffrey Interests has been granted $96 million in TIF support from the city for the first phase of a vast new redevelopment of the former site of US Steel’s South Works (USX) plant, dubbed Chicago Lakeside.  Ultimately McCaffrey plans over 13,000 units of housing, 17.5 million square feet of retail, 125 acres of parks and a 1,500-slip marina.

The TIF subsidy will cover one-fourth of development costs for the first phase of the project, which will include 1 million square feet of retail and restaurants and 848 units of housing.  The first phase is planned for the northwest corner of the 530-acre site, which runs south from 79th Street along the lakefront to the Calumet River.

Concerns about displacement

A major concern is that development could cause displacement in the adjoining area, as it has in other communities, with property tax increases as home values rise forcing longtime residents to leave, said Amelia NietoGomez of the Alliance of the South East, an organizer of the coalition.

The coalition wants property tax relief for longtime residents as part of a CBA, she said.  According to the new survey, families on the Southeast Side have lived in the community for an average of 32.6 years; in South Chicago and the East Side, the average is 50.1 years, she said.

“Our people have lived here and worked here,” said Sylvia Ortega, a 37-year resident who is president of the Bush Homeowners and Tenants Association, directly across from the site.  “We survived the closing of the steel mills, the unemployment, the gangs and the blight.  We want to stay here.

“Our tax dollars are paying for the development,” she said.  “Our community needs to benefit from the development.  We don’t want to be left behind.”

Housing is another issue that organizers hope a CBA will address.  While the TIF provides for 20 percent of new units to be affordable, the affordability standard is based on the six-county area median income rather than the immediate area, where it’s much lower.  That means even affordable units could be out of reach of local residents without extra protections, NietoGomez said.

“You don’t want an artificial line between the new development and the existing residential community, and one way to prevent that is to make sure new affordable housing is on-site and fits the profile of neighborhood income,” commented Kevin Jackson of the Chicago Rehab Network.

Quality jobs

The Coalition is also calling for training programs and employment of local residents in the new development — and for partnerships with local schools focusing on science and technology.

“This development is going to take decades, so we want education and training for kids who are in school now so that when they graduate, they can qualify not just for construction jobs but as project managers, engineers, and for green jobs,” said NietoGomez.

“Development is great, we are looking forward to it, but there needs to be a balance with community needs,” she said.  “The families that live here deserve to be able to stay, and they deserve to benefit from the development.”

Tresser said that of the $96 million allocated for the first phase of the project, just $1 million is set aside for job training.  “I’m not sure that’s going to be enough to reach the grassroots.”

He added: “If we’re going to be spending public money, we should be getting high-quality, good-paying jobs.”

Two TIF districts — Chicago Lakeside and South Works — cover the site.  According to a McCaffrey brochure, the city has committed to spending $60 million on a new high school and $20 million for a new marina, among other projects.  The Chicago Park District has committed $120 million to new park development on the site, according to the brochure.

Currently work is being completed on the extension of Lake Shore Drive and Route 41 to serve the site, funded by $30 million in federal and state funds.

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Video: Firing range in Calumet wetlands Sat, 04 Feb 2012 21:55:25 +0000 Take two minutes and watch this video on the police firing range now planned next to sensitive Calumet area wetlands.  It’s by poet and activist Acie Cargill, and it’s an effective piece of grassroots advocacy.

If you’ve been following the issue through written descriptions here or elsewhere, it will give a good picture of  the area being impacted; if you haven’t been following the issue, you’re likely to get interested.

(I like Acie’s rendition of Can’t Stop Loving You, too; nice to see folks out dancing.)

In Millennium Reserve, a firing range? Wed, 04 Jan 2012 00:03:49 +0000 Conservationists say they were “blindsided” when Mayor Emanuel resurrected a proposal to build a police firing range on the Southeast Side, just days after he joined in announcing the area would be part of a massive Millennium Reserve open space project.

The 33-acre firing range site is in “the heart” of what’s being called the Calumet Core, slated for the first phase of environmental renovation and trail-building under the Millennium Reserve, said Carolyn Marsh of the Chicago Audubon Society.

“It’s sad that our politicians, and particularly our new mayor, seem to be hypocritical on this issue,” Marsh said.

Days after the December 9 Millennium Reserve announcement, Emanuel requested the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District to take up a dormant proposal to lease the site to the city.

At the district’s December 15 meeting, Commissioner Debra Shore moved to defer the motion for a month.  The MWRD board is scheduled to consider the proposal at its meeting Thursday, January 5.

Environmental groups are calling on the MWRD commissioners to vote down the proposal.

Endangered species

In April, the MWRD board requested a wildlife survey of the site by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and a survey in May identified six Black Crowned Night Herons, an endangered species in Illinois, among dozens of species of birds.  But since no nests were found, IDNR registered no objections to the project.

The survey notes that measuring the impact of noise on wildlife at the site would require a long-term, specialized study.

In its annual Christmas bird count, Chicago Audubon noted two Bald Eagles not far from the proposed firing range site, Marsh said.

“Chicago Audubon has been fighting for 30 years for this area to be a mecca of connecting wetlands for wildlife, and instead we keep threatening their habitats,” she said.

The firing range site is in a 140-acre section owned by MWRD, along the Calumet River and South of 134th Street.  It’s adjacent to the O’Brien Lock Marsh and Whitford Pond and close by Hegewisch Marsh.

Once a wetland known as Dutchman’s Slough, it was dug up during the Deep Tunnel project and filled in with limestone, but MWRD was expected to restore the wetland, said Tom Shepherd of the Southeast Environmental Task Force.

Local residents will be “reminding the MWRD commissioners of their obligation to restore this parcel to its original condition,” he said.

The area should be restored with native wetlands plants so it will function as a filter for contaminated runoff from surrounding landfills which could reach the Calumet River and Lake Michigan, said Judith Lihota of the Calmuet Ecological Park Association.

And firing assault weapons on a constant basis will surely drive off wildlife, robbing them of scarce habitat and undermining the purpose of the trails being built under the Millennium Reserve project, she said.

Widely expanded training functions at the site do not seem to be out of the question, Shepherd said.  He said city officials have been vague when  residents sought to pin them down on this.

In Altgeld Gardens to the west of the site, Cheryl Johnson of People for Community Recovery shares other residents’ environmental concerns, but she also has safety concerns.

“No one came to us to let us know that they would be building this type of facility in our area without any public comment,” she said.  “It’s just disrespecting us as residents of the city.”

“I’d like to ask the mayor, would you want something like that in your neighborhood?” she said.

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Gun range foes could get wildlife survey Wed, 20 Apr 2011 22:42:36 +0000 [UPDATE 4-21 — The MWRD board voted 9-to-0 this morning to request a wildlife study for the area including the land proposed for a police firing range.]

Environmental activists opposing construction of a police firing range on the Southeast Side could get approval for a long-requested wildlife study at a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District meeting tomorrow.

The MWRD board will vote Thursday morning (April 21) on a motion to request a wildlife study by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources on a140-acre area south of 134th, said commissioner Debra Shore.

Last year the board gave preliminary approval to a proposal to lease a portion of the area to the City of Chicago for construction of an outdoor firing range for use by Chicago and area police officers.

Local environmental groups argued that the gun range would disturb migratory birds in wetlands on the MWRD land and north of it in Hegewisch Marsh, where the city planned a major nature center.   The areas are part of the Calumet Open Space Reserve designated by the city several years ago.  Two ponds on the MWRD property are designated as National Wetlands.

The wildlife study would be “just a matter of due diligence on our part as the landowner,” said Shore.

It would also be “a big victory for the rank and file, for grassroots people,” said Carolyn Marsh, conservation chair of the Chicago Audubon Society.  “I wish it weren’t such a struggle to get what is just common sense.”

Marsh has been persistently pressing for a wildlife survey since she accompanied biologists from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources on a walk-through of the area requested by the Southeast Environmental Task Force last summer.

IDNR reported it was “unable to determine” whether state protected species might be nesting in the area, and gave its approval to the project.  But nests of two significant though unprotected species, great egrets and great blue herons, were seen in trees nearby.

“When I saw those birds I said by gosh, we’re going to fight this,” Marsh said.

She kept digging and found an IDNR survey which found 139 nests of the endangered black crowned night heron on the site in 1985 – which had failed to turn up in an IDNR data base search for evidence of endangered species.

The Audubon Society maintains that even without evidence of endangered species, construction and operation of a firing range would violate the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by harassing the egrets and blue herons.

“That’s how species become endangered, because we’re continually encroaching on their habitat,” said Peggy Salazar, executive director of SETF.

SETF maintains the firing range is inappropriate in the open space reserve, which the city has recognized as the most significant wetland and natural area in the city.

MWRD still has to give final approval to the project after the city finalizes the plan and the City Council votes on it, Shore said.

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Call on Quinn to veto coal-gas subsidy Tue, 08 Mar 2011 19:34:29 +0000 Hundreds of Southeast Side residents joined by local health and environmental groups will call on Governor Quinn to veto a bill providing ratepayer subsidies for a proposed coal gasification plant.

The bill, passed by the General Assembly in December with little public notice, would require natural gas utilities to buy from a $3 billion coal gasification plant – at nearly double the market rate – for the next 30 years. A New York company has proposed building the plant on the site of a shuttered steel mill at 114th and Burley.

The area has been struggling to overcome a legacy of polluting industries and to implement a city open space plan that calls for 4,000 acres dedicated to recreation and wildlife habitat.  (For background see previous post.)

Hundreds of residents will circle the Thompson Building, 100 W. Randolph, starting at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow (Wednesday, March 9) and rally at 11:30.  At noon a delegation of children and residents will deliver hundreds of post cards to Governor Quinn calling on him to veto the bill.

A coal-gas plant – and more – for Southeast Side Wed, 26 Jan 2011 21:41:57 +0000 Residents of the Southeast Side only learned about a proposed coal gasification plant when a bill providing ratepayer subsidies for the project was introduced — and quickly passed — in the state legislature’s recent lame duck session.

Though State Senator Donne Trotter (17th District) sponsored the bill, “none of our representatives informed us of this,” said Peggy Salazar of the Southeast Environmental Task Force.

Along with environmental and health groups, SETF is holding a town hall meeting on the proposal – Thursday, January 27, 6:30 p.m. at The Zone, 11731 S. Avenue O – because “the community needs to be informed,” she said.

It’s not the first time a project has snuck up on residents.  Last year a plan to build a police firing range in a sensitive natural area was discovered at the last minute.

The town hall will discuss possible environmental and health impacts of coal gasification and review other existing pollution sources and other new projects being proposed in the community.  It’s cosponsored by the Sierra Club, Respiratory Health Association, Calumet Ecological Park Association, and Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.

The Sierra Club has opposed the proposal, arguing that while coal gasification is cleaner than burning coal, it’s far dirtier than natural gas – and that the ratepayer subsidy would mean annual hikes of as much as $100 in heating bills.  The group points to ratepayer protections and competitive bidding in the state’s renewable energy program as a better model.

There are also concerns specific to the community’s residents.  “They’ll be processing coal and pet coke [carbon waste from oil refineries], and our experience is when they store coal and pet coke, we have coal dust,” Salazar said.  “People’s homes get covered in coal dust – and that means people are also breathing it in.”

In addition, she points to the environmental costs of mining coal, including destruction of downstate farmland and water quality.

As the Tribune recently reported, Leucadia National Corp. of New York wants to build the $3 billion plant on the site of a shuttered steel plant at 11400 S. Burley.  The deal still hinges on Governor Quinn’s approval of Trotter’s bill – which would require Illinois utilities to pruchase synthetic gas from the plant for 30 years – and on approval by the Illinois Pollution Control Board for transfer of pollution credits attached to the old steel facility to Leukadia.  Illinois EPA has repeatedly opposed such a transfer.

For Salazar, there’s a larger question:  “Why do we keep getting all the dirty industry?”

Along with the Calumet Ecological Park Assocation and others, SETF has worked to shut down landfills and reclaim natural areas in a neighborhood that’s hosted polluting industries for a century.  The area includes Chicago’s largest lakes (Calumet and Wolf) amidst the largest and most ecologically significant wetlands in the Midwest, with a remarkable diversity of plant and animal life, including endangered and threatened species.

In 2002 the Chicago Plan Commission adopted a Calumet Land Use Plan which identified 1,000 acres for industrial development and 4,000 acres for recreation and natural habitat.  The Ford Calumet Environmental Center is planned for the Hegewisch Marsh south and west of 130th and Torrence, an area the city is rehabilitating.

“We know the area is zoned industrial, but we’d like to see some clean industry,” Salazar said.

Now, in addition to the coal gas plant and the firing range, a liquid asphalt facility is being planned for 106th Street and a commercial composting facility for 122nd and Carondolet, a few blocks from homes in Hegewisch.

“We’re environmentalists, we support composting, but do we want it so close to residential areas?”  Salazar said.  She’s heard reports of problems with odors at similar facilities, and says Chicago Composts LLC hasn’t been forthcoming with information on carbon emissions.  (A new law exempts commercial composters from emissions standards.)

“The Southeast Side still gets the garbage,” she said.  “It’s in a prettier package, but it’s still garbage coming our way.”

Migratory bird habitat threatened by firing range plan Fri, 29 Oct 2010 21:34:10 +0000 Environmental groups are opposing a Chicago Police Department plan to build a firing range in a Southeast Side wetland area that’s a habitat for rare migratory birds.

The first and possibly last public hearing in the community on the subject – announced just four days ago – takes place at noon tomorrow (Saturday, October 30) at the UAW Hall at 13600 S. Torrence.

Despite having recommended that the area remain as open space in the Calumet Land Use Plan, the city is seeking a 39-year, $10-a-year lease from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District for the 33-acre site, located in a larger area owned by the district along the Little Calumet River and south of 134th Street.

Two ponds in the MWRD property, the O’Brien Lock Marsh and Whitford Pond, are designated as National Wetlands by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said Judith Lihota, president of the Calumet Ecological Park Association.  The shooting range would be right next to Whitford Pond and nearby the site where Ford is planning to build an environmental center.

The range would have capacity for 40 shooters and be operated from 8 a.m.  to 8 p.m., according to a noise study done for the city.

On a recent tour of the area with city and state officials, Lihota saw blue herons and white egrets.  The shooting will certainly drive off the birds, further reducing limited nesting options for migratory and wetland birds in the area, she said.

There are many abandoned industrial properties where a shooting range could be sited without disturbing sensitive wildlife areas, according to the Southeast Environmental Task Force in a blog post.

Residents learned of the plan when the proposal appeared on an MWRD board agenda in June, Lihota said.  She said the city and police department have refused requests to do a wildlife study of the area they want to take over.

MWRD is expected to vote on the proposal November 4.

Chicagoland’s favorite places Thu, 17 Jun 2010 19:58:24 +0000 What Makes Your Place Great? That’s the name of a contest inviting area residents to reveal their favorite undiscovered public spaces. It’s part of a larger project promoting “placemaking” and the importance of lively neighborhoods and inviting public spaces.

Sponsored by the Metropolitan Planning Council and the Chicago Architecture Foundation, the contest invites residents to submit a photo or video of their favorite local place along with a brief description of what it means to them and how it contributes to their community.

Prizes include passes to area cultural institutions – and winners’ spots may end up on a special CAF tour this fall.

Bush Community Garden of Hope

It’s the second year of the contest.Last year 8,000 people voted online for 51 entrants.

Among the 2009 winners was the Bush community garden in South Chicago (Newstips covered the garden’s first season in 2004).

Beyond showcasing special places, the goal is “to help people understand what goes into creating and sustaining great places in communities and how those places contribute to a healthy region,” said Mandy Burrell Booth of MPC.

“Sure, great places are fun to visit,” she said. “But they also can make communities more economically vibrant, connect neighbors, reduce stress, improve safety, and keep people healthier by giving them someplace they can walk to.”

Through its Placemaking Chicago initiative, MPC is training planners from local agencies. “In some ways, placemaking turns traditional community planning on its head,” said Burrell. “Instead of starting with a budget item or a project list, it starts with people’s vision for their places.”

In 2007, MPC and the Project for Public Spaces published a Guide to Neighborhood Placemaking in Chicago. It includes a step-by-step guide, a list of local resources, and seven case studies, ranging from the Bloomingdale Trail to the drum circle at the 63rd Street beach.

The group is also partnering with the Wicker Park Bucktown Special Service Area to “activate” the Polish Triangle, where Division, Milwaukee, and Ashland meet.

Last year they held an online survey and a two-day open house, where residents could help develop ideas for the space.  Currently WPB is sponsoring a public art project for local artists to present their ideas, which will be installed in vacant storefronts in the area.

Photo by Maureen Kelleher from NCP, Southeast Chicago goes from steel to green.