Chicago’s demolition regulations are weak and rarely enforced. The outrage over the Crawford Power Station demolition debacle must result in city-wide reforms to better protect all Chicagoans. Irresponsible demolition contractors must never again be allowed to endanger the health of Chicagoans.
Little Village residents and Chicagoans were shocked when the Little Village neighborhood was engulfed in a cloud of demolition dust for approximately 30 minutes on April 11, 2020 caused by Hilco and its demolition contractors’ grossly negligent implosion of a tower at the Crawford Power Station. Preservation Chicago supports the Little Village community and City of Chicago in demanding a comprehensive investigation and holding Hilco fully accountable.
“We stand in solidarity with Little Village neighbors and the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization in their demands to protect the community,” said Ward Miller, Preservation Chicago Executive Director, “It’s clear that the City’s environmental oversight and permitting process is not rigorous enough to protect Chicago residents.”
The demolition of homes and buildings across Chicago expose Chicagoans daily to a constant source of dangerous airborne particulate pollution, including high levels of lead and other heavy metals.
“Chicago has one of the worst blood lead levels in the country,” said David E. Jacobs, Chief Scientist at the National Center for Healthy Housing which conducted a study in 2013. “Nationwide, we know that half a million children have elevated blood lead levels, so that’s an epidemic in anybody’s book. There needs to be more done.” (WBEZ, 1/7/18)
If Chicago’s leadership chooses to take action, Portland, Oregon’s innovative 2018 demolition ordinance can serve as a model. Guided by science and facts, these demolition best practices have proven to successfully reduce asbestos and lead-based paint exposure in residential demolitions.
Preservation Chicago calls on Mayor Lightfoot and the Chicago City Council to take immediate actions to implement demolition best practices to improve safety, enforcement and transparency – for all demolition applications. The following demolition best practice suggestions are designed for 1 to 4 units buildings.
- Increase Safety by preventing release of airborne demolition dust
- Wetting procedures must be implemented with high capacity water misting equipment sufficient in volume and force to prohibit airborne dust from leaving the site.
- No demolition when wind speeds exceed 25 mph.
- Increase Enforcement, verification, fines and fees
- Increase number of field inspectors and frequency of inspections.
- Require use of air quality and wind speed monitoring devices.
- Increase fines for violations; 1st offense $10,000; 2nd offense $20,000; 3rd offense $30,000.
- Increase demolition fees to generate significant new source of funding for enforcement. Average current demolition permit fee is approximately $300. Preservation Chicago proposes a demolition permit fee that is the three times the property’s most recent annual tax bill.
- Increase Transparency
- Aldermanic approval and community oversight prior to demolition permit issuance.
- Public notice by certified mail and door hangers required for every residence or business within 500 feet of property at least 30 days prior to demolition commencing.
- Internet posting of all demolition applications in user-friendly, searchable format with all relevant information and contact information included.
- No demolition permits should be released on the same day as the demolition permit application and without following the steps outlined above.
“Communities benefit from sound practices that protect it environmentally, historically and culturally,” said Ward Miller. “It is time we make sure that future decisions are aligned with the community’s needs and with the people of Chicago.”
When Crawford Station was built in 1926, it was considered an engineering wonder of the world. It was designed by one of Chicago’s most respected architectural firms Graham, Anderson, Probst and White, who also designed Chicago Union Station, Soldier Field, Field Museum, Merchandise Mart, Shedd Aquarium and Chicago’s Main Post Office.
The $19.7 million of public funds allocated to the redevelopment of the Crawford site should be reallocated to a responsible, community-oriented developer to adaptively reuse Crawford’s Turbine Hall, which is partially standing. Crawford’s Turbine Hall should be converted to a use that meets the needs of the community.
The increased pollution from hundreds of idling diesel trucks at the proposed 1-million-square-foot truck distribution facility will have a powerfully negative health impact on the community, and it should not be allowed to move forward.
Crawford Power Station was a Preservation Chicago Most Endangered in 2014 and 2019. Fisk Power Station in Pilsen was a Preservation Chicago Most Endangered in 2014. Fisk Power Station was purchased by Hilco in 2019. Immediate steps must be taken to prevent Hilco from demolishing Fisk Power Station.
Research Study and Case Study Models:
Case Study: Portland Oregon’s Demolition Ordinance on February 1, 2018, Asbestos, Lead-Based Paint, Dust and Site Control Measures for Demolition Projects with 1-4 Dwelling Units
Research Study: Lead and other heavy metals in dust fall from single-family housing demolition, David Jacobs, National Center for Healthy Housing, 2013
Media: What’s With That Demolition Dust?, WBEZ Chicago Investigation, Jeremy Borden, Jan. 7, 2018