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City commission approves Little Village logistics complex despite air quality protests

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Opponents fear pollution from trucks using the facility will lead to similar health issues caused by the site’s old coal plant

Chicago DPD

A plan to build a 1 million-square-foot distribution center at the site of Little Village’s Crawford Generating Station faced organized opposition from groups of community members and environmental advocates at Thursday’s meeting of the Chicago Plan Commission. Opponents argued that replacing the coal-fired plant with a sprawling warehouse featuring 188 loading berths for diesel semi-trucks would simply swap a former source of dangerous air pollution for a new one.

Located near the intersection of Pulaski Road and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, the 1926 Graham, Anderson, Probst and White-designed Crawford plant was decommissioned in 2012 after being linked to asthma attacks, emergency room visits, and premature deaths. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel touted the closure as an accomplishment in a televised 2014 campaign commercial.

On Thursday morning, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization hosted a press conference on the second floor of Chicago’s City Hall prior to the start of the Plan Commission meeting. The group called on the commissioners to delay their vote on the proposal from Northbrook-based Hilco Redevelopment Partners.

Activists had called the developer to sign a Community Benefits Agreement ensuring that the project would not negatively impact the health of nearby residents. While the development is expected to create 178 permanent positions, opponents also wanted written guarantees that the Hilco complex would pay a living wage, provide unionized jobs, and employment opportunities for undocumented area residents.

Despite the pushback from the community, the Chicago Plan Commission voted in favor of the warehouse development. The project will next head before the city’s Zoning Committee and finally full Chicago City Council for final approval.

Hilco hopes to complete the Little Village facility, dubbed Exchange 55, in early 2020. The development will include several green touches including a new bike path, infrastructure to support electric vehicles and rooftop solar panels, says the Chicago Tribune. The developer will also need to complete extensive environmental remediation at the former power plant site.

The Little Village logistics center wasn’t the only project to get the nod from the Chicago Plan Commission on Thursday. The group also approved Bucktown’s 366-unit Triangle Square development, an 11-story addition to the Rush University Medical Center, a 106-unit apartment complex next to the 606 Trail, an amendment allowing a residential project in Galewood to add 39 units, and a controversial 75-unit, mixed-income rental project slated for Chicago’s Jefferson Park neighborhood.