Our Neighborhood Deserves Advance Notice of Major New Development

Published April 25, 2018

By Kate Moser

Kate MoserKate Moser The McKinley Park neighborhood deserves better notice of major new developments like the new MAT Asphalt plant about to start operations at 4010 S. Damen Ave. I personally knew nothing about it until coming across a Facebook post in late March. Few in the neighborhood seem to have known about it either: The development was a surprise to the McKinley Park Development Council, the McKinley Park Civic Association and the McKinley Park Advisory Council.

Like many neighbors, I was concerned to see the plant going up, as I live nearby with my family. The plant lies a block south of Pershing Road across the street from the park, including the brand new site of the McKinley Park Community Garden. 

Business Grows Here - Space - Resources - Community

Business Grows Here - Space - Resources - Community

The project has been in the works since at least March 2017, when 12th Ward Alderman George Cardenas supported a change of zoning to the vacant property adjacent to the asphalt plant. This land couldn’t stay residential, as it would place potential future homes inside the minimum required distance from the plant. 

The zoning was changed successfully, and in July of 2017 the company applied for a construction permit. It was granted in October 2017, and building began the following month. No outreach to the community announced the new business and its major new industrial site.

The permit for the asphalt plant, issued by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, outlines maximum allowable emissions that should not cause health problems, which is great. However, I personally am worried that the park, and my yard, will smell like asphalt all summer. Although the construction permit from the Illinois EPA specifically forbids the plant from creating an odor nuisance, materials from the National Asphalt Pavement Association acknowledge that “from time, to time, odors may emanate."

If the asphalt plant does become an odor nuisance, the plant’s operators must rectify it, according to the permit. But what, exactly, constitutes a nuisance? How quickly must they rectify it? What are the consequences if they don’t? While the legal process for building the asphalt plant was followed at every step, there is little information on who is going to regulate this plant and how often, much less what recourse residents can take if it does give the area an unpleasant odor.

New truck traffic on Pershing Road will definitely have an impact on the neighborhood. According to a statement at the McKinley Park Civic Association tour of the plant earlier this month, up to 100 asphalt trucks per day may drive down Pershing, adding to air pollution and congestion. One solution to the latter, as proposed by 12th Ward representatives, might be to remove the bike lanes: a nice amenity which would be sad to lose.

Considering that he is chairman of the City of Chicago’s Committee on Health and Environmental Protection, Cardenas should do a better job of including residents in matters that may affect their health and environment. At this month’s civic association meeting, 12th Ward representatives blamed the distractions of the recent primary election. But given project timelines, this really isn’t a good excuse.

The asphalt plant project already seems to suffer from hallmarks of Chicago’s ethically questionable — albeit fully legal — practices like pay-for-play campaign contributions, working with well-connected developers and the idea that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness afterward than permission beforehand. If this asphalt plant is good for the neighborhood, as Cardenas claims, why not be more eager to share it? New economic development could have been good publicity for the 12th Ward. Our community deserves better than finding out after the fact.

Let’s work together to hold our elected officials accountable to us when making these types of decisions. We must also hold MAT Asphalt accountable for making sure that their equipment functions the way it should and for controlling the vast amount of truck traffic that they are bringing to the area.

A community meeting hosted by the 12th Ward Independent Political Organization is taking place tonight, Wednesday, April 25, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the McKinley Park library, 1915 W. 35th St. All residents are welcome to attend, and I encourage all affected neighbors to do so.

I also urge you to send in your opinions on the asphalt plant project and community notification of new development to 12th Ward Chief of Staff Samie Martinez (Ward12@cityofchicago.org), Director of Communications and Policy Liliana Escarpita (Liliana.Escarpita@cityofchicago.org) and via the 12th Ward phone number at (773) 523-8250. You can also stop by the Ward Night every Monday evening.

Let’s make sure that we, the residents of the McKinley Park neighborhood, have input as to what happens in the Central Manufacturing District and any additional development that occurs in our community.

Mary Tierney
Thank you for your input. All very good points
Cesar Olivo
There is no doubt that the powers-to-be did a poor job of communicating to the McKinley neighborhood regarding the advent of this major industrial development-the Mat Asphalt plant. There was a need starting from last year and now for better transparency and accountability from all our elected officials. That said, it is time to come together and monitor the Mat Asphalt plant production to ensure it is complying with all State and Municipal health and safety regulations and statues.

Amidst the fervor at Wednesday's meeting what was mentioned & not detailed was how local residents can apply and get hired at this plant. The McKinley neighborhood unemployment rate hovers around 13%. This is a too high an unemployment rate for any healthy community. The Asphalt plant will need scores of dump truck drivers and laborers-all are good paying, Union jobs. How & where do local residents apply for these jobs? Do they have to first sign up with the respective Unions? Which Unions? Where are they located? Are there any specialized trainings, certifications or licenses (truck) required to work at the plant? We need answers to these questions for the McKinley neighborhood to take advantage of the employment opportunities at the Asphalt plant.

A vibrant and healthy community needs to have a balance of involved residents, thriving commercial businesses, a strong economic/employment base and an effective social & political structure. The McKinley Park neighborhood has a lot of these assets-some better than others. The Mat Asphalt plant can be another good McKinley neighborhood asset-only if all the parties involved resolve to work together. That is our challenge and opportunity!

Cesar Olivo

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