Pilsen condo project has neighbors fuming

Christmas may come early on Tuesday for Alderman Daniel Solis if anti-condo activists follow through on their plan to deliver a sack of coal to the politician’s City Hall office.

They’re singling out Solis for his support of a 391-unit Pilsen condo project at 18th and Peoria, an area zoned for industrial use.

The project has the backing of clout-heavy developers, including

a Texas-based firm in which former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros is involved.

The spat highlights the growing tension between longtime Pilsen residents and wealthy newcomers who have flocked to the neighborhood as amenities and property values have grown.

Citing contributions to the political committee of Solis, who represents the 25th Ward, organizers have dubbed their protest “Buy Back the Alderman.”

Though demonstrators will sing carols and bring two people dressed as Santa Claus with them, they’re hoping Solis receives more than their holiday tidings.

“[He] should be feeling the pressure from us," said Alejandra Ibanez, executive director of Pilsen Alliance, a neighborhood group. "He is the decision-maker. If he says yes, plans will go ahead, or if he says no, it's a no-go."

Solis’ office said the alderman was on vacation this week and not available for comment.

According to earlier news reports, Solis has said he’s made no commitment to the proposed development. But so far he is pleased with the specifics of the project: some units will be set aside for middle-income residents, Latinos will have dibs on construction labor, and the building's exterior will evoke themes of Mexican culture.

Activists say that’s not enough. Incomes in Pilsen are lower than those citywide, meaning that many neighborhood residents will be priced out of the new condos, said Ibanez. She also noted that Latino immigrants already take on the majority of construction work in this city.

The two-block parcel, to the west of Halsted Street and its gallery district, and to the east of the bustling commercial strip on 18th Street, represents the latest battle in the fight to slow down the gentrification creeping along Pilsen's east side.

More broadly, the Pilsen Alliance is circulating petitions to place a referendum on the March ballot htat would make it more difficult for developers to secure zoning changes.

"If there is ever a battle we need to participate in, it's this," said Ibanez.

A plan is also on the table to put on an encore of the vigil held at the parcel site in November, which attracted about 100 protestors and strong media attention.

An open community meeting on the issue will be held by Solis' office on Jan. 17.