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Property Markets Group, Pilsen Residents Square Off Over Parkworks Development

Property Markets Group last night hosted the first of three community meetings for Parkworks, a multifamily development it wants to build in Pilsen. The project has been met with stiff community resistance over affordable housing allotments and a belief that Parkworks would open the floodgates to similar developments in Pilsen and displace lifelong residents who would be unable to afford the rising rents in the neighborhood.

Members of the Pilsen Alliance protest outside Property Markets Group's community meeting for its planned Parkworks development.

PMG bought the eight-acre site bounded by 16th and 18th streets, Peoria Street and Newberry Avenue from the Midwest Jesuits in January. PMG originally planned to build 500 apartments but could not reach an agreement with the Pilsen Land Use Committee and Ald. Danny Solis (25th) over how many units would be set aside for affordable housing. PMG proposed 10%, the minimum required under Chicago's Affordable Housing Ordinance; Solis and the Pilsen Land Use Committee drafted a decree in 2005 stating that any new residential development requiring a zoning change would need to set aside at least 21% of new units for low-income renters.

But the Pilsen Land Use Committee and Solis (who backed PMG's proposal before changing his mind and siding with community groups) have shown a willingness to make concessions when developers have offered something that was beneficial to the community, like green greenspacspace or the promise of local jobs.

A graphic from Property Markets Group showing the density of its Parkworks development in Pilsen, compared to surrounding blocks of residences.

The meetings scheduled by PMG are intended to unveil its new plans for the Parkworks site while starting a dialogue with community groups, gathering information on what they like and dislike about the project. The new renderings reveal that PMG wants to build 465 luxury apartments on the site, and compare Parkworks' density to nearby residential blocks. The proposal includes 10K SF of retail, public green space, an art walk, pedestrian walkways through the green space into the community, and Paseo, a planned rails-to-trails project similar in scope to the 606.

PMG touted added benefits to the community. It promised a "10/20/30" local jobs pledge where PMG would hire 10 local workers during the construction phase, 20 local residents would be employed to work full- or part-time once Parkworks opened, and a promise that 30% of employees hired by Parkworks' retail tenants would come from Pilsen, through rent credit incentives PMG would offer those retailers.

Property Markets Group principal Noah Gottlieb

But the major sticking point remained affordable housing set-asides. PMG Principal Noah Gottlieb said the firm would adhere to the 21% decree through a combination of on-site set-asides and the purchase of off-site residential buildings over a five-year period, whose rents PMG would maintain at affordable levels under the city's ARO. Gottlieb estimated that would produce 100 units.

Community groups and affordable housing advocates fear that as PMG acquires more of these off-site buildings, fewer units within Parkworks would be available to low-income renters. Parkworks opponents raised further concerns that PMG would offer building owners below-market bids for their buildings to implement this plan.

Pilsen Alliance Director Byron Sigcho

Pilsen Alliance Director Byron Sigcho said that what his group and others consider affordable rents in the neighborhood may be different than PMG's definition of affordable housing. A three-bedroom unit inside Parkworks set aside for affordable housing would rent for around $1,200/month, according to Gottlieb. Sigcho said the Pilsen Alliance would love to see a developer commit to 100% affordable housing on the site.

"This is a defining moment for Pilsen," Sigcho said. "We could lose what's left of affordable housing in Pilsen."

Gottlieb also believes the site is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with its location and Pilsen's growing interest from real estate developers and investors.

PMG has two more community meetings for Parkworks scheduled for 5:30 p.m. June 13 at the Dvorak Park gymnasium, 1119 West Cullerton St., and 5:30 p.m. June 14 at Open Books, 905 West 19th St.