A section of Chicago Avenue, between Kostner and Keystone Avenues, will allow for both industrial and commercial uses after the Chicago City Council approved an ordinance on June 28. Previously, that portion of Chicago Avenue had been dedicated strictly to industrial use. The ordinance was introduced by Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), whose ward encompasses the area.

During a recent interview, Mitts said that she was simply responding to economic realities and local demand. While the area has historically been industrial, she said, many of the companies that have utilized the area for industrial purposes have closed down over the years. Meanwhile, Mitts added, West Humboldt Park residents have been requesting that her office help bring in more commercial development. The new zoning classification, which is C3-1, would provide more redevelopment opportunities without closing the door on manufacturing altogether, the alderman explained.

Mitts has supported manufacturing in her ward in the past. According to the Chicago City Clerk’s legislative records, over the past seven years, Mitts supported a total of two applications for Class 6(b) property tax classification. The incentive-based classification aims to attract industrial businesses by temporarily lowering their tax rates. More recently, Mitts expressed support for the Industrial Growth Zones program, a joint county-city program that seeks to encourage industrial businesses in areas that haven’t seen much investment by simplifying the process of applying for incentives and connecting interested businesses to local resources.

The stretch of Chicago Avenue that Mitts wanted falls within the Northwest Industrial Corridor growth zone. In a statement, Mitts said that these blocks have seen better days, especially on the south side of the street.

“Several years ago, there were several manufacturing businesses in the area, but they’ve all gone now, victims of a rapidly changing economy,” she stated. “It’s empty and somewhat blighted. A former ice cream company, was once located along that strip, but it too has vacated the area.”

At the same time, Mitts said that the community has been asking her to encourage for more retail. The previous zoning was too restrictive for that.

“An urban farming collaborative called Metropolitan Farms is looking to open in the area, providing an ongoing farmers market offering fresh produce and other locally-sourced healthy food items, but were prohibited from doing so [under the current zoning].” Mitts stated.

“Given the paucity of grocery and other retail stores in the area, it seems a good fit, and more important — my community is actively supporting opportunities for more convenient, quality goods and services from small and mid-sized entities to locate along this heavily traveled business corridor,” she said. “Now, [residents] are forced to go to other communities for the basics. I’m trying to change this dynamic.”

“Black people need jobs, and I’m glad [Mitts] sees the need to keep it a manufacturing district,” said activist George Blakemore. “Hopefully, with the help of this body, more manufacturing will move in this area and our people will be able to work.”

Mitts described the rezoning as a step toward greater city-wide equity.

“I’m always available to work with my community to create new opportunities for economic empowerment,” she stated. “I firmly believe that if we are looking to reach our goal to be a unified city and one Chicago, then we need to employ innovative solutions designed to spread investment in all of our city neighborhoods. This zoning change is a positive step in that direction.”