PAVING THE WAY FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING IN MCKINLEY PARK?
After apartment plan rejected, city explores moving asphalt plant, but politically connected owner says officials haven’t discussed relocation
Chicago planning officials are exploring whether a McKinley Park asphalt plant owned by a politically connected businessman can be moved to another location following two years of numerous complaints from neighbors.
In a letter to developers of a proposed affordable housing project near MAT Asphalt on Pershing Road, Chicago Department of Housing
Commissioner Marisa Novara said that the city’s Department of Planning and Development “is investigating alternative locations” for the business “that are more appropriately located” and away from schools, homes and the community’s namesake park.
The letter was sent after Novara recently rejected a request to fund the housing project that would create 120 affordable apartments in one of the historic buildings constructed over a century ago for the Central Manufacturing District on Pershing Road. Novara cited the planned apartments’ proximity to the asphalt plant as a reason to reject funding needed for the redevelopment.
In her letter, sent via email Friday, she said the asphalt plant is close to two schools and the park, which is across Pershing Road from MAT.
“We are hopeful that should an alternative location be arranged, we can revisit the funding decision for what would undoubtedly be a major benefit to 120 low-income households and the entire McKinley Park community,” Novara said in her letter.
Michael Tadin Jr., MAT Asphalt’s owner, said he hasn’t had discussions with the city about moving and questioned where his business would go.
“Where are you going to find 13 acres?” Tadin asked, referring to the size of his current operations.
Tadin, a city contractor, also owns a construction company. He’s the son of Michael Tadin Sr., a longtime supporter of former Mayor Richard M. Daley and a beneficiary of Chicago’s Hired Truck program.
Ald. George Cardenas, whose 12th Ward includes McKinley Park, said he would support the city relocating the plant.
“If the city has the funds to relocate the plant, I’m in,” Cardenas said. “It’s a no brainer.”
The alderman said he strongly favors the housing development and is exploring other ways to provide city funding, potentially through tax increment financing.
In her letter to the affordable housing developers Tom Brantley and Hipolito “Paul” Roldan, Novara noted odors from the plant and said there have been more than 50 inspections by city officials related to the smells from MAT. Three violation notices were issued, she said. Truck traffic from the asphalt operation added diesel emissions, she added.
Novara, who was unavailable for comment, also referenced a 2018 environmental report “that illustrated the disproportionate impact of air pollution and health hazards in Chicago neighborhoods like McKinley Park, a largely working-class Latinx community.”
The letter also pointed to a community group’s criticism of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency that said the agency should have done a more thorough review before the plant opened to analyze the impact it would have on an “environmental justice” community already burdened with pollution issues.
“Environmentally, locating affordable housing next to an asphalt plant would be a terrible decision,” said Mary Lu Seidel, director of community engagement for Preservation Chicago and a proponent of the restoration of the historic buildings.
The developers say they were surprised in recent weeks when city officials began expressing concern about new housing next to an asphalt plant. Talks about the project have been ongoing for two years, they said, and the area is in need of new affordable housing.
“While I’m sure any attempt to relocate the asphalt plant would be much appreciated by those concerned, it does nothing to solve the unacceptable lack of affordable housing in McKinley Park and in other predominantly Hispanic communities,” Brantley said.
One community group said the city’s approval of the asphalt plant is part of a bigger problem of concentrating polluting industries in Latino and Black neighborhoods.
“MAT Asphalt should never have been built here,” said Anthony Moser, a member of Neighbors for Environmental Justice. Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.
Members of St. Sabina Church gathered on 75th Street over the Dan Ryan Expressway during rush hour Friday, holding signs with a simple request: “Stop Killing Us.”
“Sixty-five years ago, Emmett Till was murdered today and 65 years later we are still having Black men shot and killed,” said Rev. Michael Pfleger, St. Sabina’s pastor. “The murderers of Emmett Till weren’t ever charged and the same thing is going on around this country today.”
More than two dozen church members walked each side of the overpass carrying signs. Pfleger and other members held a 6-foot-wide sign on the metal fence over the highway as cars whizzed by, some drivers honking in support. Two people walked the median along 75th Street with the sign over their torsos, fists raised.
Members of the church also wore shirts with printing on the front and back. On the front, “Stop Killing Us.” On the back, seven bullet holes — the number of times a Kenosha police officer shot Blake in the back as he tried to enter his car.
In addition to honoring the memory of Emmett Till, Pfleger said he also wanted to demand the arrest of the officer who shot Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis. Pfleger also wants Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth to resign for failing to stop a militia group from recruiting armed men to protect property in that city.
“Not only do we have the tale of the two cities in Chicago, but we also have the tale of the two justice systems in America,” Pfleger said. “It is time the federal government implement police reform across this country — it’s got to be done now.”
Lisa Ramsey said she was terrified by the use of excessive force by police and felt it was important for her to be out there marching with her fellow churchgoers.
“We want to make a statement that we are tired of the senseless killing that is going on by police officers as well those in that are happening in the community and we just want it to stop,” Ramsey said. “We are tired of it and we have to work together because the killing has to stop.”
Recent videos showing police brutality have the whole country on edge, Ramsey said. The videos, along with the pandemic and high unemployment, Ramsey said, have been the catalyst for mass protest and some riots.
Seeing the contrast between how Kenosha police officers handled Blake, while allowing the accused shooter, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, to leave the scene, was telling, she said.
“[Rittenhouse] walked past tons of police officers and nothing happened to him until the next day and that is causing more anger,” Ramsey said. “People are angry because that looks like they are saying, ‘As long as you’re white we’re not going to bother you, but if you’re Black, then you’re a danger to us.’”
MAT Asphalt opened in McKinley Park in 2018.
Members of St. Sabina protest on a Dan Ryan Expressway overpass at 76th Street on Friday.