In order to “improve efficiency,” the Department of Planning and Development is slightly changing the way it conducts monthly Plan Commission meetings.

From now on, the department’s project managers will be taking over the responsibility of presenting plan development applications to commissioners, instead of developers, their attorneys or architects, which was how meetings were conducted in the past.  

Newly-appointed DPD Commissioner David Reifman will also change the mayor-appointed land use board’s start time to 10:00 a.m., instead of in the afternoon. Officials with DPD say developers and their attorneys will still be allowed to speak and answer questions from commissioners, but project managers, who are tasked with writing official staff reports for each project, will take over a majority of the PowerPoint presentations.

And the changes made a noticeable difference. Yesterday’s meeting, which had eight zoning applications up for consideration, wrapped in about four hours, adjourning around 2:00 p.m. Last month’s meeting barely met its adjournment deadline, and that was only after Chairman Martin Cabrera’s repeated requests that developers keep their presentations concise.

At past meetings, DPD project managers introduced each application, detailing the zoning change requested and skeletal information of the project. The development team, usually the zoning attorney followed by the architect or lead developer, would then expound on the finer details. More often than not, this method led to drawn-out, marathon-long meetings.

Meeting Highlights 

Only one application on yesterday’s agenda, LG Development’s proposed nine-story plus penthouse condo building, garnered significant opposition from the public, with more than a dozen residents, mostly from a neighboring condo building, voicing their opposition. The proposed development would be built on a surface parking lot at 111 South Peoria Street, across from Mary Bartelme Park.

Some opponents argued that the West Loop is getting too dense, and the local transportation infrastructure has not kept up with the building boom (“If I wanted tall, I would have moved to Streeterville,” one complained). Others warned of “dramatic safety concerns” of having such a large residential building, with people coming and going so close to a park where children play. Lighting issues and vehicle traffic worries were frequently brought up, too.

This group was especially organized, with handouts, zoning maps, and presentation boards supplementing testimony. Attorney Ron Cope and city planner Les Pollack were among them.

Even local Ald. Walter Burnett (27) warned fellow commissioners that the project was so controversial in his community, that it was “used against him” during his re-election campaign last year.

Despite the overwhelming opposition from the community, the application still passed unanimously. Speaking to Aldertrack after the meeting, one opponent, Richard Dees, a an attorney from McDermott Will & Emery, said that they may sue the city, alleging the zoning change is inconsistent with previous DPD master zoning plans for the neighborhood. “That is how fed up West Loop residents are,” Dees explained in an email. “The politicians have been picking neighborhoods off separately. We need to stop every upzoning in the West Loop until there is a plan to take care of the people already living there, and that means uniting to oppose every upzoning, no matter how attractive the project appears.”

The remaining seven applications went through mostly without a hitch, and commissioners were noticeably less vocal about affordable housing issues than in past meetings.

Only one development team caught flak for taking advantage of a “loophole” in the city’s old affordable housing requirements: SMATT, LLC, the applicant behind a 513 ft residential high-rise with 500 units planned for 1320 South Michigan Avenue in city’s South Loop.

Ald. Burnett accused developer John Murphy and his zoning attorney Jack George of taking advantage of a “loophole” in the zoning code, because they won’t be adding on-site affordable housing or making an in lieu cash payment into the city’s affordable housing trust fund to make up for those lost units.

Instead, they’re taking advantage of an affordable housing bonus, agreeing to make a $1.96 million payment into the affordable housing trust fund in exchange for the ability to increase building density (Under the new rules, a developer would have to pay per affordable unit not included on site, in addition to the bonus, should they select it.)

When Burnett asked them to explain why they chose not to include the units, Murphy said there’s still an opportunity for it. “I have had discussions with the alderman to integrate affordable housing on site. That has not been determined yet, because it’s something that more recently came up,” he explained.  

“You making a lot of money, man. You got a lot of stuff over there,” Burnett later responded, after it was revealed that the building’s largest apartments, which would be about 1,100-square-feet, are expected to go on the market for about $4,000 a month (about $2.95-per-square-foot), and that 45% of the parking spaces will be leased out to the general public.

Union Concerns Raised at Planned McCormick Place Hotel (3rd Ward)

Draper & Kramer, the development team behind a proposed 22-story hotel and residential high-rise for the corner of Wabash Avenue and Cermak Road got some heat when it was revealed that the hotel wouldn’t employ unionized workers.

According to Larry Devito with Draper & Kramer, the hotel is committed to hiring locally and hosting job fairs, but employees won’t be unionized. When Chairman Cabrera asked if “any effort was made to add unionized labor,” Devito’s partner, David Augusta, jumped in to explain that “select service hotels” or limited-service hotels, rarely employ union workers because it doesn’t make sense “economically and from a management standpoint.”   

Local Ald. Pat Dowell (3) later testified that she did “establish conversations” between the development team and Unite Here Local One.

The 144 room, ten-story hotel, which will be near the Cermak stop on the CTA’s Green Line, will employ 35 people when it’s built. The residential building, which will be 22-stories, will be located directly behind the hotel, with a setback along South Wabash Avenue. The development team plans to make ten of the 275 units affordable; those units will be distributed throughout the building. And of the total units, 37% will be efficency, 49% one-bedroom, and 14% two-bedrooms. Draper & Kramer will also take advantage of the adopt a landmark bonus, which lets them increase building density by paying about  $750,000 for building restorations at two landmarked neighborhood churches (Quinn Chapel AME and Second Presbyterian Church).