Looking forward to 2020 on the West Side

New developments, proposals hold promise

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By Igor Studenkov

Contributing Reporter

As the new year dawns, Austin Weekly News is looking ahead to some promising developments coming to the West Side next year. 

Community Development

One initiative that could potentially have the biggest long-term impact is the Invest South/West Initiative. It will use $250 million in funds from Tax Increment Financing districts, the Small Business Improvement Fund, and the Neighborhood Opportunity fund to "provide transportation, housing and quality-of-life enhancements" based on existing plans, such as the Austin Quality of Life Plan for 10 community areas, including Austin and North Lawndale. 

As part of the process, the city is holding four events meant to introduce what is being planned and collect resident input. The West Side event will be held on Jan. 18 at 11 a.m. at Kehrein Center for the Arts, 5628 W. Washington Blvd. 

City funding is already being used to support the opening of West Side businesses. For example, later this year, Austin is expected to get its first coffee shop outside Galewood, while East Garfield Park is expected to see its second coffee shop. Lighthouse Cafe is currently scheduled to open at 524 S. Laramie Ave. in the fall of 2020, while Passion House Coffee Roasters will open a new roastery and coffee shop at 328 N. Albany Ave. sometime this spring. On a more artistic front, comedian Hannibal Buress is planning to open the Melvina Masterminds Community Art Center in Galewood's Monumental Office Building, 6120-6114 W. North Ave. 

Affordable Housing

On July 24, Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) introduced two ordinances designed to encourage affordable housing — especially in the more well-off neighborhoods that don't have much of it. 

The Development for All Ordinance would require developers to put more affordable housing on site and make it impossible to get out of building any units by paying an in-lieu fee. Housing for All would make Chicago Housing Authority more transparent, ensure that every public housing unit is replaced with an affordable unit and make it harder for aldermen to block affordable housing in their wards.

While the status of the latter ordinance is unclear, the City Council's Committee on Housing & Real Estate held a hearing on the former on Dec.11. While several housing advocates spoke to how more on-site affordable housing would increase opportunities and help redress the legacy of housing segregation and redlining, the Chicago Department of Housing was wary of doing away with in-lieu fees. At the time, committee chair Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) indicated there would be more hearings on the subject in the future. 

On Oct. 14, the city launched what has since been rebranded as the Inclusionary Housing Task Force to figure out the best way to address the gaps in the current affordable housing policies. The taskforce held its first meeting on Dec. 12, and it is currently scheduled to meet once a month for the next six months. It is also expected to "start convening community-based focus groups to receive further feedback on inclusionary housing policy" sometime in January. Neither the meeting schedules nor the focus group meeting schedules were publicly available by this issue's deadline. 

Police Accountability

Two ordinances aimed at giving more oversight and authority over the workings of the Chicago Police Department to an elected civilian council may finally move past discussions — at least that's what Taliaferro and Mayor Lori Lightfoot have been promising. 

One ordinance is supported by the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (the so-called "GAPA Ordinance") and the other is supported by the Chicago Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression (also called the "CPAC ordinance"). Both would create a council that takes over the Chicago Police Board duties of finding police superintendent candidates and have some say in policies, including police oversight. The key difference is just how far it would go. The CPAC version would take over all of the duties of the Police Board and the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), as well as authority over the police budget and the union contract negotiations with the Fraternity of Police. The GAPA version of the council would be more modest – it would be able to recommend the superintendent's removal and nominate candidates for the head of COPA and members of the Police Board. Unlike the CPAC ordinance, it would create three-member councils in each police district to work with the officers on crime prevention, community policing and restorative justice policies. 

When Taliaferro became chair of the City Council's Committee on Public Safety, he expressed willingness to hold hearings on both ordinances, only to push them back several times — most recently in November. The next committee meeting is scheduled for Jan. 7 at 10 a.m. at the City Council Chambers, but the agenda for that meeting wasn't uploaded by this issue's deadline. 

There are internal deadlines built into the ordinances. If they are not voted on by June, they will automatically lapse. That wouldn't prevent aldermen from re-introducing them again, but it would restart the process. And if the ordinance is not approved by spring, the council wouldn't be elected for another two years. 

Libraries

The past two years have been good for West Side libraries: Austin, 5615 W. Race Ave., and North Austin, 5724 W North Ave., branch libraries went through refurbishment, while North Lawndale's Douglass Branch Library, 3353 W. 13th St., went through more significant renovations. This year, it's West Garfield Park's turn.

Legler Library, at 115 S. Pulaski Road, became a regional library last summer, but it was a soft conversion — extending weekday and Sunday hours. The Chicago Public Library system didn't make a big deal of the change because the major renovations that would herald more significant changes are yet to come. 

Late last fall, Legler closed for renovations. When it reopens later this year, it will have an expanded children's area, larger YouMedia teen multimedia space, the city library system's first-ever, in-house art studio, more meeting rooms and more computers. 

Last year's state capital bill included $600,000 to help move the Galewood-Mont Clare Branch Library from a single room at Rutherford-Sayre Park Fieldhouse, 6871 W. Belden Ave. to a larger location. But it's not clear what, if anything, may happen on that front. Five Thirty One Partners LLC, which is redeveloping the former US Bank building at 6700 W. North Ave. and the neighboring parking lot at 6650 W. North Ave., expressed willingness to include the library branch on the first floor of the former, but that project isn't expected to be finished until 2021. And CPL spokesperson Patrick Molloy made it clear that the library system isn't committed to that location, and more funding may need to be secured to make a location possible. 

One change coming is that, by the end of the year, all branch libraries will get Sunday hours. Austin, North Lawndale, and West Humbold Park's Richard M. Daley, 733 N. Kedzie Ave., branch libraries currently have Sunday hours to help make up for Legler's closure, and those hours will continue once Legler reopens. North Austin and Austin's West Chicago Avenue, 4856 W. Chicago Ave., branch libraries currently don't have Sunday hours, and Molloy previously indicated that they want to space the expanded hours out to ensure that no one region would benefit more than the other, so that will likely take longer.

Contact:
Email: igorst3@hotmail.com

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