“The grassy lawns, sports fields, and lagoon of McKinley Park are frequented by families and students of Horizon Science Academy, a K-10 charter school adjacent to the park. Also adjacent to the park, trucks and other equipment rumble, busy with the production of noxious asphalt.
“How did we get here? Here’s the story of how an industrial polluter arose unannounced.
“A surprise construction permit and little opportunity for public input: In 2018, residents and community organization leaders of McKinley Park were surprised to learn that an asphalt plant would be moving into their neighborhood. Residents had also not been informed that this development, MAT Asphalt, had received a permit which allowed operation to commence and asphalt production to take place for up to one year after construction without applying for long-term pollution permits from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA).
“A polluter next to a park. Poorly defined environmental rules and outdated zoning codes allowed an industrial landowner to move into a residential and recreational area with no meaningful public input.
“The IEPA claims to have notified elected officials by mail of MAT Asphalt’s permit application, but State Rep. Theresa Mah and State Senator Antonio Munoz say they never received notification. Alderman George Cardenas’ office acknowledged receiving the letter but failed to announce the plant’s intentions to constituents.
“IEPA policy for pollution permits also includes a 90-day window for public comment, where residents and community organizations can provide feedback that could influence stipulations in the permit. According to communication acquired from a Freedom of Information Request, that public comment window was shortened due to ‘staff oversight’.
“Outdated zoning fails to adapt to changing land uses: Despite the disregard for a robust community-input process, the fact remains that the MAT Asphalt plant is on a parcel zoned for industrial use adjacent to a planned manufacturing district. This zoning dates back to the area’s history as a meatpacking district and home of the Union Stockyards.
“The Manufacturing District borders McKinley Park and provides access to rail yards and the South Branch of the Chicago River, but many of the former warehouses sit vacant. While McKinley Park was dominated by meatpacking during the first half of the 20th Century, it has since seen more diverse land uses, including areas that are largely residential. Despite these changes in land use over time, the zoning code has remained unchanged, allowing for industrial users and polluters to be located as-of-right, putting community members at risk. Antiquated zoning regulations allow for a community park, a charter school, residences, and an asphalt plant to occupy the same block.
“Ongoing conflict and new pushback: Complaint data from the Chicago Department of Public Health shows that residents have filed over 130 pollution complaints since the plant opened in 2018. MAT argues that many of those complaints are unfounded and have occurred when production was not occurring. Residents have also complained of headaches, nausea, noxious smells, and dust from uncovered trucks coating their yards.
“Residents have filed over 130 pollution complaints since the plant opened in 2018
“In May of 2021 the Chicago City Council voted to approve a 120-unit affordable housing development close to MAT Asphalt, against the recommendation of the Chicago Department of Housing. Additional housing next to a known polluter? Yes. Outdated zoning codes recently facilitated pollution a stone’s throw from people’s homes, and now those same outdated policies—left unchecked—will endanger the health of more people and livability of more residences.” (Bailly and Gurin-Sands, Metropolitan Planning Council, 8/25/21)
Yesterday’s zoning: Next to a park and schools, an asphalt plant; An asphalt production plant operates across the street from a public park, releasing carcinogens into nearby residential areas. Why? Lax policy and zoning that hasn’t changed since the stockyards era, Jordan Bailly and Chloe Gurin-Sands, Metropolitan Planning Council, 8/25/21