THREATENED: Asphalt Plant Prevents CMD Affordable Housing Reuse From Moving Forward (Chicago 7 2020)

“Unable to secure financing from the city or the state, the developers that planned to build 120 units of affordable housing in an empty McKinley Park warehouse have given up and put the property up for sale.

“The $41 million project might have been well underway and maybe even finished by now if it wasn’t for a stinky neighbor: a controversial asphalt plant around the corner. Worried about emissions from the MAT Asphalt plant, first city and then state officials denied funding for the development, which is all but impossible without tax credits and other government subsidies.

“With a big park across the street and strong demand for low-cost housing in the neighborhood, the proposed project at 2159 W. Pershing Road, called Parkview Lofts, held promise. But it got caught in the political crossfire between community activists, MAT’s owner and the city, which had been facing a backlash for allowing the facility to open in 2018. Now, nearly four years after filing its development plans with the city, the owner of the building and one next door, at 2139 W. Pershing Road, has had enough and hired a broker to sell them.

“Parkview’s developers argued that the asphalt plant posed no health threat, citing a consultant’s study to back up their position. And former Ald. George Cardenas, 12th, who represented the neighborhood until December, supported the development.

“But Marisa Novara, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Housing, caved into pressure from “environmental justice warriors,” said Tom Brantley, one of the developers. In August 2020, the Mayor Lori Lightfoot appointee rejected about $8 million in city funding for the affordable housing project.

“They just yanked the DOH funding out from underneath us,” said Brantley, president of Downers Grove-based Fifth Avenue Capital Partners. “No one at DOH pointed to anything that said, ‘Here’s why we can’t do this.'”

“After consulting with the Chicago Department of Public Health and the city’s chief sustainability officer, ‘DOH ultimately concluded that funding Parkview Lofts would directly contradict our mission and values due to the site’s close proximity to an asphalt plant,” a spokeswoman for the department wrote in an email. ‘The proposed location of the 120-unit project would diminish the quality of life of the residents due to truck diesel and asphalt odors/emissions.

“Though the DOH denied funding for the project, concerns about its location didn’t prevent the Chicago City Council from approving a zoning change for it in May 2021.

“By then, the developers had moved on to the Illinois Housing & Development Authority, agreeing on a funding package with the state agency that included about $19 million in Low Income Housing Tax Credits. But in mid-2022, the IHDA pulled its funding at the last minute, citing environmental concerns.”

“Residents have raised numerous concerns about MAT Asphalt, built across from the community’s namesake park, but many of those same neighbors support the housing project and now are doubly upset.

“‘Not only is MAT Asphalt harming our quality of life and our park, but now it’s obvious they are sabotaging the type of investment our neighborhood deserves,’ said Robert Beedle, a member of Neighbors for Environmental Justice. ‘It’s frustrating to keep hearing about Chicago’s commitment to investing in neighborhoods like ours, but when it comes down to it none of these plans or promises materialize.'” (Chase, Chicago Sun-Times, 8/28/20)

Preservation Chicago strongly support the adaptive reuse of 2159 W. Pershing Road as affordable housing. The negative environmental impact of the MAT Asphalt plan is well documented. It was opened without public notice or public meetings in 2018 and has been operating without a permit since 2019. The City of Chicago should close the MAT Asphalt plant and allow developers and tens of millions of redevelopment dollars to revive the long vacant Central Manufacturing District. (Gallun, Crain’s Chicago Business, 3/6/23)

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