A group of West Side Chicago residents is demanding answers about a potential zoning code violation, pollution and community jobs for a long-delayed Amazon warehouse in the Humboldt Park neighborhood.
Ramsin Canon is representing the residents. He said in order to build a freight facility on land meant for manufacturing, a company must apply for a special use permit. He said no such permit was obtained and therefore Amazon bypassed a closer evaluation of its proposal from the city, as well as more community input over how the land is used.
“The zoning code is written the way it is and it exists for a reason to make sure that people and communities are protected, and that things are developed according to the best possible practices that they can be,” Canon said.
The 140,000-square-foot warehouse is located at 1260 N. Kostner Ave., and sits in Chicago’s Planned Manufacturing District #9, created in 2004. Canon said had the proper procedures been followed, the city would have been able to impose certain conditions that are beneficial for the surrounding community. Residents are now evaluating which course of legal action to pursue whether an administrative option or a court challenge.
But Amazon said proper procedures were followed.
“The site was constructed by right as an industrial development with input and guidance from the alderman and Department of Planning and Development to ensure compliance with all zoning requirements,” Amazon spokeswoman Caitlin Tully said.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) also gave a statement that said Amazon “has not incurred any city zoning-related infractions,” and that the company coordinated with Mitts’s office and the planning department to ensure “they were in full compliance with, and following all prevailing city zoning/building codes, rules, and regulations.”
The city’s planning department has not yet responded to WBEZ’s request for comment.
Many West Side residents say they have been waiting since the end of 2022 for the facility to open. Over the past few months, organizers and workers from Black Workers Matter and Get to Work, Inc., have held a number of protests to call for Amazon to open the facility and hire locally.
At their latest protest at the site Wednesday morning, the groups were joined by Cook County Commissioner Tara Stamps, who took over Brandon Johnson’s post in the 1st District when he was elected Chicago’s mayor. She said the effects of having the warehouse in the neighborhood amount to environmental and economic racism.
“This is just reminiscent of what always happens in Black and Brown communities, often poor communities,” Stamps said. She called on Amazon to bring green transportation to the warehouse and come to the table to talk about jobs.
Farrah Walker lives near the Amazon facility and is a member of the West Humboldt Park Community Coalition. Her group has been asking Amazon and Mitts about a community benefits agreement since the summer of 2021. It wants 60% of the 500 jobs Amazon has promised to go to workers from the area, environmental protections against pollution and a youth recreation center built for the community.
“We were open to negotiating. Ultimately, we want something that’s going to sustain the community,” Walker said. But she said neither Amazon nor Mitts’s office has come to the table to discuss a potential community benefits agreement since December of 2021.
Amazon said the site’s opening was delayed from late 2022 because of “supply chain concerns and for business reasons.” Construction is still ongoing inside the facility and the warehouse will launch this fall, with hiring starting 30 days before the opening, Tully said in the statement. She also said Amazon is working with local community organizations on job opportunities.
Mitts said she has worked with groups as well.
“I’ve listened to and attempted to work in collaboration with groups regarding the economic impact and job opportunities … with varying degrees of success. But to imply that I have been absent and/or unwilling to share information and address issues is simply untrue. I have been transparent with everyone regarding my strong support of at least 50% local hiring from the community,” Mitts said in a statement.
Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on Twitter @estheryjkang.