Is the North Branch Industrial Corridor Ordinance another done deal?: What's the rush? What is this? Who cares?


Map shows three new proposed PMDs

"We see this as yet another done deal," says Juanita Irizarry, Executive Director, Friends of the Park, about the North Branch Industrial Corridor ordinance presented at six simultaneous meetings last week. The Ordinance addresses the use of land that not only involves neighborhoods east of the River but also those in Logan Square, Bucktown, Wicker Park, Pulaski Park and down to Kinzie. 

What's the rush?
Co-sponsored by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and 16 aldermen, the ordinance is headed for a City Council vote on July 26. 

In order for the ordinance to go to the Planning Commission meeting on July 20, public meetings are required. If approved at the Commission, it will go to the Joint Committee of Finance and Zoning on July 24 and on to the full City Council vote on July 26. 

The city is continuing to accept feedback online. Individuals may also comment at the public meetings of both the Plan Commission and the Joint Committee on Finance and Zoning. 

The actions* taken relative to locations and notifications for the six simultaneous meetings set up by the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) appear to support Irizarry's statement, as do the meetings**. 


Looking east from just east of the Cortland bridge, built in 1901 and refurbished in 1997. View is of former Finkl site.

Why should I care?
While this may seem to be an issue that doesn't matter because it does not directly affect anyone except property owners, it actually will affect everyone who has an interest or need to shop, eat, enjoy entertainment, access services, work or live anywhere east of the River from Fullerton down to Kinzie. 


This map shows zoning areas

What's this about?
Rezoning a 760-acre swath of land that is on both sides of the River from Kinzie on the south to Fullerton on the north. 

The proposed ordinance removes three Planned Manufacturing Districts (PMD) established in 1988 and reverts land in the PMDs to their previous zoning classifications of C1-2, M1-2, M2-2, and M3-3. Then it creates PMD 2, 3 and 5 and changes those now in the expanded Downtown area to DS-5, DX-5 and DX-7. 

The Framework Plan, passed in May, covers concepts for the corridor but has no plans or rules for implementation.

"What should be done," explains Paul Sajovec, Chief of Staff, Scott Waguespack's 32nd Ward, "is to have a plan that takes into consideration all factors for this area. That includes roads, bridges, transportation, schools as well as open space and parks. Then developers come in with proposals to fit that overall plan. 

"What is being done is that the City has identified land that can be developed with large residential properties with great views. But there are no plans as to the impact on existing residents and businesses or what infrastructure is needed to support that choice. 


Looking west at the refurbished Cortland bridge+

"Roads, bridges, transportation and open space/park land assets are already stressed and there is no money to address them. 

"The conversion of this area from industrial and manufacturing to residential and commercial will have significant negative consequences from a traffic standpoint for all of the surrounding communities. The City should be guiding new residential and commercial development to areas that have underutilized infrastructure rather than to areas that have little such infrastructure and the significant geographic challenges posed by the two branches of the river that surround Goose Island."  


Original PMD area shows

"This ordinance will ensure that funding will be available to mitigate traffic congestion and create open space opportunities for area workers and residents," says Alderman Brian Hopkins, 2nd Ward. 

He explains that 70% of the voluntary payments (impact fees) made by North Branch developers in exchange for increased density will go into a fund to pay for transportation, infrastructure and open space improvements. 

"I have serious reservations with the City's plan for selling floor area bonuses in the area. The concept is sound and it's how they've done things in the downtown districts for some time, but their numbers are ludicrous," says Paul Dickman, longtime Wicker Park resident and member of the Wicker Park Committee's Preservation and Development Committee which reviews development projects. 

"The value of any development parcel is not the dirt itself, but what you can build on it. This is called its buildable square feet. 

"Downtown, developers can buy extra floor area from the city to make their buildings bigger. The developer is expected to pay 80% of what it would cost him on the open market to buy enough land to allow the extra floor area. 

"In the North Branch Framework Plan, it is similar. But they only propose to ask for 50%. That is bad enough, but the price they figure for the median land value is a joke.   

"Land here in Wicker Park trades around $100 a buildable foot, and I doubt that it is any cheaper in Lincoln Park. The most recent purchase in the PMD (Finkl, Gutman Tanning and Sipi Metals) all bought around $50 a buildable foot, while the land was still under the PMD. 

"The city's impression is that this land trades for $22.11.

"The Framework intends to double the land value with the stroke of a pen and then charge them ten cents on the dollar for as much more as they can use." 

Adding to issues of proper valuations is the fact that residential properties cost the City in services more than business/industry properties.


Participants take active role in 2nd Ward meeting++

Parks and open space
Like Irizarry, Alderman Michele Smith, 43rd Ward, has much concern about park and open space. In May before the Framework Plan was adopted, she sent a letter to CPD Commissioner Reifman. Her summary points were:

1. The Department of Planning and Development masked the critical open space deficit in communities surrounding the corridor with poor policy and bad math, labeling the third most visited park in the United States, Lincoln Park, a neighborhood park for all these communities. This cherished destination with a zoo, museums, conservatory and Victorian style gardens, draws 20 million annual visitors, but is no substitute for present day recreation needs of the neighborhoods of the Corridor.

2. Open space goals for redevelopment of the North Branch Industrial Corridor must be increased, based on need for open space inside the Corridor itself and within the communities in which it is located. Specific targets for riverfront access space and recreational space for sports must be set.

3. The Framework Plan and Design Guidelines should incorporate flexible means to achieve the open space goals, including public/private partnerships and development incentives plus traditional public sources of park financing. 

Regarding the Ordinance, Smith says, "The North Branch Industrial Corridor includes a new commitment for 'at least 10 acres' of open recreational space in addition to the river trails, boardwalks and canal and wetland park areas previously proposed. However, the Plan does not contain a mechanism to secure significant contiguous space." 

"This could result in a patchwork of acreage tacked onto large developments. Moreover, without knowing the anticipated population, we cannot be sure that this acreage is sufficient. The Plan states: 'Principle 3.5: Create not less than 10 total acres of publicly accessible open spaces within Planned Developments for sports and recreational activities....'" 

"They are taking the same approach with parks they do with schools," says Sajovec. "They go in after the fact to solve a problem instead of avoiding the problem by planning."  


*Meeting notifications and locations
Chicago Department of Planning and Development (DPD) sent notices on June 23 for five simultaneous meetings.  

Normal practice in Chicago when a city department wants to hold a public meeting in a ward, they contact the alderman in that ward to discuss location, marketing and other issues. In the case of these meetings, it did not happen in that manner. 

When Alderman Smith, learned that the meeting in her ward was to be in Adams Park, she requested it be changed because the space was too small and had no air conditioning. She was given an OK and she promoted the new site through many channels. DPD, however, said that they were going to continue to have a meeting in the Adam Park facility. 

She has requested another meeting so that more people may have an opportunity to be informed and give feedback. 

In the case of Alderman Scott Waguespack, 32nd Ward, he learned that his meeting was to be in Hamlin Park from an email that Smith sent to her constituents. On the DPD website, however, the meeting was listed for Holstein Park. Approval for a request to change it from Hamlin to Holstein was not sent until 3 p.m. Tuesday. 

Caught in this mixed messaging was Eva Bergant, a long-time active Bucktown community resident. "Seems as though they were hiding from the public. Then seeing what they brought…they were just fulfilling the requirements for a public meeting," she said. 

*At the meetings
Alderman Smith believed that the issue of park land needed to be addressed by the ordinance, she brought the topic up at the 43rd Ward meeting and was shut down

Smith has requested another meeting for her Ward. Her request has not been responded to.

"People at our meeting were mostly concerned about density and traffic congestion," said Alderman Waguespack. When asked if they got answers, he replied, "No." 

At the 2nd Ward meeting in the Department of Fleet and Facility Management facility, Eleanor Gorski, Deputy Commissioner of Planning, Design and Historic Preservation City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development explained that the current studies of the PMDs showed that businesses other than manufacturing had come and showed a steady economic increase. 

While people said they understood the need to increase economic growth, they questioned how these zoning changes are the best way to solve the problem. They questioned what financial and quality of life costs will be incurred. The repeated answer was "…that it is outlined in the Framework Plan approved in May."

+Bridge re-opened in October 2015

++ Photo courtesy of Ed Tamminga



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