Metal shredder proposed for Pilsen clears zoning hurdle

February 23, 2014

A proposed metal shredder near a high school on Chicago’s Southwest Side has cleared a key hurdle.

The city’s Zoning Board of Appeals voted unanimously Friday night to approve a special-use application for the project, according to Peter Strazzabosco, deputy commissioner of the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, which provides the board’s staffing.

Board chairman Jonathan Swain and members Catherine Budzinski and Sol Flores were present for the closed-door vote, Strazzabosco said.

The application came from Pure Metal Recycling, LLC, a company with ties to Acme Metal Refinery, a major contributor to a campaign fund controlled by Pilsen’s alderman, Danny Solis (25th). Acme was in the public eye last August after the Internal Revenue Service raided the company’s Bridgeport headquarters.

Solis endorsed the proposed Pilsen metal shredder in a letter presented to the zoning board Friday.

The board vote followed more than four hours of testimony. Rev. Emma Lozano, an immigrant-rights advocate and pastor of nearby Lincoln United Methodist, led neighborhood residents in favor of the metal shredder.

“The residents of Pilsen, including the members of my church, want Pilsen to be a place where we can both live and work,” Lozano told the board, noting the neighborhood’s creeping gentrification. “We want to live in a community which is mixed — residential and manufacturing.”

Mark Swedlow, Pure Metal Recycling’s president, last week signed a one-page “covenant” with Solis and community residents. In the document, the company vows to give “first priority in hiring to Pilsen residents” and to not discriminate against them “because of immigration status or past criminal records.”

The metal shredder would stand on a 15-acre industrial parcel along South Loomis Avenue just south of West Cermak Road. The land is across the road from Benito Juárez Community Academy, the neighborhood’s biggest high school.

The project’s opponents, including the Pilsen Alliance and the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization (PERRO), are complaining about Acme’s record in Bridgeport and warning that metal shredders are known for pollution, fires and explosions. They are also voicing concerns about increased traffic and noise.

“We don’t want another Sims in the neighborhood,” PERRO organizer Jerry Mead-Lucero said, referring to an existing Pilsen metal shredder owned by Australian-based Sims Metal Management.

Pilsen environmentalists led a campaign to close Fisk Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant that had operated in the neighborhood for more than a century. In 2012, California-based Edison International shut down Fisk and a coal-fired generator in nearby Little Village.

Chip Mitchell is WBEZ’s West Side bureau reporter. Follow him on Twitter @ChipMitchell1 and @WBEZoutloud, and connect with him through Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.