The Chicago City Council recently approved the sale of two city-owned lots in Austin. The Vh Masonry Construction company, located at 5124 W. Lake St., purchased the properties on the condition that the company remediate existing site contamination. 

The vacant lots at 5108 W. Lake St. and 5062 W. Lake St. are located directly east of the company’s current building. According to city officials, the two lots in between the two city-owned lots are privately owned, and Vh Masonry plans to acquire them as well and use the entire parcel to expand its existing outdoor equipment storage. 

According to historical records and the archived version of its website, Morris Wood & Sons woodworking equipment manufacturer occupied the now-vacant land from 1906 to 1970. 

Vh Masonry agreed to clean up the lots and the city agreed to use the money the company paid to buy the land to reimburse the company for the clean-up. Until the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is satisfied that the remediation is completed, the company won’t be able to use the land. 

According to the company brochure, Morris Wood & Sons was founded by gunsmith Morris Wood in 1874. Originally based in the Loop, it moved to Austin, near what is now the Laramie/Lake Green Line ‘L’ station, because it needed room for a larger facility. 

It moved to Morristown, Tenn. in order to build a bigger factory and better serve its clients in southern states, according to the brochure. The company went out of business in May 2014.

According to county property records, after Morris moved out, the lot at 5108 W. Lake St. went through several owners, two of whom bought it at a tax sale. The 5062 W. Lake St. lot had a lien for unpaid water bills against it on Dec. 6, 1991, and a demolition notice was issued against the property on Oct. 15, 1999, because it was “vacant and open and [was] a continuing hazard to the surrounding community.” The city acquired both lots in 2003 after they were auctioned off due to unpaid property taxes. 

According to Department of Planning and Development Deputy Commissioner Peter Strazzabosco, the city and the company hasn’t closed on the sale as of March 25, and he didn’t have an estimate on when they might close. The department didn’t respond to questions about the nature of the contamination by deadline. 

During the March 16 meeting of the city council’s Committee on Housing and Real Estate, Nelson Cheung, a DPD coordinating planner, explained that, once the remediation is complete, Vh Masonry will put up a fence 7 feet from the existing sidewalk, plant trees in the 7-foot setback and pave the lot. 

Ald. Daniel La Spada (1st) wondered whether the company would do anything to mitigate flooding. Cheung responded that, to the best of his knowledge, the lots aren’t big enough to require flood mitigation, but his department will revisit the issue once environmental remediation is complete.

La Spada said he still had concerns.

“I would love to be wrong, but I can imagine how it [would] increase stormwater on Lake Street, and on that bike lane [on the north side of the street],” he said. 

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...