Lincoln Yards project keeps changing on way to Thursday's zoning committee meeting

Date: 
03/06/2019
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Lincoln Yards

While Sterling Bay's $6 billion Lincoln Yards 54.5 acre mega development is the focus for Chicago's City Council Zoning Committee meeting Thursday, the real issue is the entire 165 acre North Branch Industrial Corridor between North, Webster and Clybourn Avenues and the Kennedy Expressway. In a full court press, Sterling Bay and Alderman Brian Hopkins continue to make changes to the plan in an attempt to push the project through tomorrow's meeting.

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Alderman Brian Hopkins

In the last half hour, 5:45 p.m., Wed., Mar. 6, a new announcement that Sterling Bay has reduced the tallest skyscraper to 595 feet, from 650 feet; development scope from a maximum of 15 million square feet to 14.5 million; and reducing the floor area ratio for the whole project from 6.5 to 6.2., as reported in Crain's.

Alderman Brian Hopkins affirmed Monday night that he said he might reconsider supporting the Lincoln Yards project but many changes were still in progress. Then Tuesday came the announcement that Sterling Bay was upping the onsite affordable housing units from 300 to 600. 

The affordable housing onsite unit count was a concern of the new Zoning Committee Chair James Capplemen, in a runoff for his 46th Ward aldermanic seat. Sterling Bay's announcement may change his mind in supporting the project. 

Sterling Bay and Hopkins also pointed to an increase in open and park space to 21 acres. 

Vetting and transparency
In the meantime various groups continue to focus on specific points such as taking money out of Chicago Public School funding, density, inadequate infrastructure, a Chicago Park District public park, Live Nation entertainment venus and a lack of transparency around the project. 

The last minute changes, allowing no input from area residents, add to the case that the project has not had the proper vetting, according to many individuals and groups. 

Both mayoral candidates Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle have said that they believe the large projects Emanuel is attempting to get through before the end of his reign should be delayed until the new administration is in place. This is particularly true considering Ed Burke's tie to Sterling Bay and his tie to Hopkins' staff. 

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Election night in Burke's office with Jose Rivera center back

When Steve Niketopoulos moved from Hopkins' staff to Ed Burke's Finance Committee Office where he continues to work, in addition to part-time for Hopkins, Jose A. Rivera, Jr. moved from Burke's staff into Hopkins' Chief of Staff role. On election night, Feb. 26, Rivera was captured in a photo by a WGN producer in the 14th Ward office as Burke celebrated his re-election victory with his wife Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke. 

Two aldermen continue to speakout
Scott Waguespack, 32nd Ward, and Michele Smith, 43rd Ward, whose wards will be heavily impacted by this project, have both spoken out vigorously about the framework plan and project from the beginning. 

Their objections have included lack of transparency of finances, information about the project's plans, infrastructure etc. 

On Jan. 21, Waguespack said, "In light of recent revelations about apparent alleged corruption by these powerful aldermen [Burke and 25th Ward Danny Solis], it is clear that we must table the proposed mega TIF deal at Lincoln Yards until we are able to be sure that the project has not been tainted." 

At the last Plan Commission meeting in February, Smith said, "New circumstances now cloud the matter. The applicant has fired its property tax lawyers, just days ago to stop questions about insider deal-making. Our City Council process is in turmoil and is being challenged and hopefully reformed. 

"Our community supports development of the North Branch Corridor, it does not support this plan today. We want to provide good projects and good jobs for our union workers to build. We do not support a rush to jam through the biggest development in a generation in Chicago. 

"You should delay the vote on this project--for the sake of your reputation, for the sake of intelligent urban planning and to demonstrate we have good government the public can trust." 

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Aldermen Smith and Waguespack fill out a FOIA request

They went as far as filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requesting "all the facts before the City hands a billion in taxpayer dollars over to a developer. 

They are against moving this project through City Council until the project has been completely reviewed by the community and the new mayor and city council members are in place. 

Zoning Committee Meeting
While the Zoning Committee meeting will be the first time elected officials are reviewing the project versus mayoral appointees, architect Richard Wilson says that he hopes that even if they pass it they include a plan for monies to be spent on creation of a public park.

Wilson speaks on behalf of 24 park advocate groups* which are pro-growth and support balanced redevelopment by Sterling Bay and other developers .  "The market will probably correct issues like building height and surface congestion but what it will NOT correct is making land available for public park space once the high density development starts." 

The $1.3 billion TIF (Tax Increment Funding) which has been approved is for the entire 165 acres, not just the 30% which is known as Lincoln Yards. 

Both the move of the Metra Station and creation of a new City park fall outside the boundaries of Lincoln Yards but are needed to serve not just the 30,000 expected to inhabit the Lincoln Yards but those in the entire 165 acres and beyond. 

Furthermore, the framework identifies public transportation projects and place responsibility for open space completely in the hands of private developers. 

While it is stated that there are 21 acres of parks in the Lincoln Yards plan, 11 are hardscape and a river walk strip. Of the 11, six are active and five are plazas and a river overlook. 

Only one site remains for public park use. That is General Iron, located between North Ave. and Cortland St., Marcey St. and the Chicago River, adjacent to Lincoln Yards. 

"The City needs to step up now. There has been silence on their part until now," commented Wilson. 

According to him, the same model being proposed for the construction of public streets and bridges with TIF funds to serve this area directly applies also to the delivery of a public park.    

Park advocates point out that public parkland is:

  • critical for Chicago’s economic development and efforts to retain and grow population
  • a competitive advantage for businesses seeking to attract and retain top talent
  • key in increasing adjacent land values and municipal tax growth by an average of 20%.  

The Zoning Committee meeting will be held in City Council Chambers, Thurs., Mar. 7, 11 a.m. It is open to the public.

*Park Advocates: American Institute of Architects, American Society of Landscape Architects, Friends of the Chicago River, Friends of North Branch Park Preserve, Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail, Friends of the Parks, Openlands, Audubon Society, Ornithological Society of Chicago, Ornithological Society of Illinois, Preservation Chicago, Bucktown Community Organization, Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce, Ranch Triangle, Sheffield Neighborhood Association, Wicker Park Committee, Wrightwood Neighbors Association, AYSO Region 418, Chicago City Soccer Club, Hamlin Park Baseball, i9 Sports, Oz Park Baseball Association, Cards Against Humanity and iO Theater.

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