Despite heated public testimony and numerous insults thrown at Ald. James Cappleman (46) for his support of reimbursing JDL Development with $11.2 million in TIF funds for their proposed luxury high-rise for the former Maryville Academy site, the item advanced out of Finance Committee yesterday. Two aldermen voted against it.

Attendance: Chairman Ed Burke (14), Pat Dowell (3), Sophia King (4), Leslie Hairston (5), Greg Mitchell (7), Michelle Harris (8), Anthony Beale (9), Patrick Daley Thompson (11), George Cardenas (12), Marty Quinn (13), Raymond Lopez (15), Toni Foulkes (16), David Moore (17), Matt O’Shea (19), Mike Zalewski (23), Roberto Maldonado (26), Walter Burnett (27), Jason Ervin (28), Ariel Reboyras (30), Scott Waguespack (32), Carrie Austin (34), Emma Mitts (37), John Arena (45), James Cappleman (46), Harry Osterman (48)

Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1) and Ald. Harry Osterman (48), the sole opponents, requested a roll call vote on the agreement. Both argued it was inappropriate for the city to use tax increment financing dollars to support luxury units. Both cited hot button personal issues: for Osterman, the use of TIF funding to help Chicago Public Schools, and for Moreno, luxury developers paying into the city’s affordable housing fund rather than building affordable units on site.

According to Aarti Kotak, the Managing Deputy Commissioner for Economic Development with the Department of Planning and Development, JDL will construct a 381-unit residential high-rise with 36,000-square-feet of commercial retail space at the vacant Maryville Academy site on the corner of Montrose and Clarendon. The building has been vacant for more than a decade and the Montrose Clarendon TIF was created specifically to encourage development of the site. The property within the entire TIF is currently tax exempt, but is expected to generate $2 to $3 million in annual property tax revenue once the high-rise is built.

All the money collected through the new TIF, about $15.7 million, will be given back to the developer. $4.6 million will be immediately put in an escrow account to pay for improvements at the neighboring Clarendon Park within 6 to 8 months of the building’s completion. Construction of the new building is scheduled to start this August.

“These are luxury units on the lakefront, am I correct?” Ald. Osterman asked Kotak after her testimony. “I don’t think there is another piece of lakefront land that will be developed in the next 15 or 20 years. So this site is going to be marketed as the last piece of lakefront land developed. So it’s going to be luxury units smack dab there.”

Twenty of the units, about 5% of the total, will be made affordable. The remaining will be sold at market rate. Since the project was first introduced under the 2007 Affordable Housing Ordinance, now sunsetted with more stringent requirements, the developer is paying about $5.7 million in in-lieu fees to the affordable housing trust fund.

“If the developer wants to develop luxury units on the lakefront, albeit it’s a tough corner, we should not be extending TIF funds. Bottom Line,” Ald. Osterman explained, prompting cheers from the gallery. Dozens of Uptown residents, most of them with the community group One Northside, attended the meeting to oppose the project. “I’m not doing this for the applause. I don’t see this is in the public interest.”

“I find it incredibly troubling, given the financial situations that we’re in with CPS and all of our places, that we are going to use TIF funds for luxury units,” Osterman added. Numerous opponents echoed his argument during public testimony.

Osterman was also skeptical that the Park District would properly use the funds for the improvements at Clarendon Park. “They promise a lot but they don’t deliver,” he claimed.

“I agree 100% with what he said,” Ald. Moreno added. “It just doesn’t pass the smell test.”

Members of the public were less kind about the project, raising the issue of the the homeless population living under the viaducts near Montrose Beach and claiming the City Council was condoning segregationist policies. A few witnesses insulted DPD Commissioner David Reifman, suggesting he made his money as a zoning attorney by rigging the system and taking advantage of tax breaks. One characterized Ald. Cappleman as “corrupt and greedy.”

“You should be stripped of your social work license,” said Patricia Snowden told Cappleman. A self-proclaimed lifelong resident of Uptown, she called the agreement “utterly reprehensible.” 

This went on for more nearly two hours, as Chairman Burke waived the three minute limit to testimony until the meeting started to eat into the scheduled time for the Airbnb hearing. Even Ald. Nick Sposato (38) made a point to tell the witnesses in the gallery to “stop with the personal attacks.”

Ald. Cappleman, who spoke last, gave a similar speech to the one he gave at an earlier Plan Commission meeting, when the zoning for the the project was approved. “The perception that this TIF money could be used for other things doesn’t exist,” he said, adding that if the development agreement failed to pass nothing would be built at the site and no money would go toward the park improvements. The item passed 18-2.

The Montrose/Clarendon agreements, items 14 and 15 on the Finance Committee agenda, were the only ones to receive testimony, questions, and public comments. The remaining redevelopment agreements and Class L tax breaks advanced out of committee unanimously by voice vote.

Chairman Burke abstained from voting on the Class L tax break for a two-story, 21,375 square foot red brick building in the landmark Fulton Market area owned by Sterling Bay, citing Rule 14.k

Highlights of Approved Items 

  • TIF For Pullman Whole Foods: The committee approved a redevelopment agreement with Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives Inc. that would support the construction of a new Whole Foods distribution center in Pullman. The company plans to move from its Indiana location once complete. Local Ald. Anthony Beale (9) called the project a “huge testament” to Pullman improvements following the area’s growth after it won designation as a federal national historic monument. The distribution center is expected to create 150 new jobs. Whole Foods has signed a community benefits agreement committing to local and minority hiring, Ald. Beale said. Interestingly, the amount of the TIF to be dispersed, $7.4 million, was not mentioned prior to the voice vote.

  • $3.4 Million in Police Settlements: Going out of the regular order of business, Chairman Burke called up three police settlements near the start of the meeting (right after the Pullman TIF was approved). Steve Patton with the City’s Law Department testified on the largest settlement, a $2 million payout to Saremm Saenz and her young son, Moises Motato, who were struck by a squad car while crossing the street. Ald. David Moore (17) asked for a quick synopsis of the settlement. According to Patton, Saenz was crossing the street with her son at 9:30 p.m. when an officer, who was making a left turn, hit both of them.

    The officer claims he didn’t see the two crossing the street. Camera footage obtained from a nearby business shows the two plaintiffs had the right of way. “The driver wasn’t speeding or distracted, he just didn’t see them,” Patton explained. The son had a pre-existing medical condition where his organs are located outside his body, Patton said, and the accident exasperated the condition. Both survived, but the son racked up $500,000 in medical expenses. The family originally asked for $7.7 million. The other two settlements are for police related shooting incidents, and no questions were asked regarding those matters.

  • Comptroller Appointment: Erin Keane, the city’s acting Comptroller, faced a relatively warm reception from the Finance Committee, although she was immediately pressed for specifics on how she plans to address the backlog of unpaid fines and parking tickets owed to the city, health insurance plans for city workers, and the payment system for delegate agencies. As a city of Chicago employee since 1996, Keane has worked in the city’s Department of Environment, spent eight years in the Budget Department, and has been with the Finance Department for the past two years.

    She said she hasn’t found a replacement for her old position as First Deputy Comptroller, so she’ll be acting in both capacities for the time being. In her brief opening remarks, she mentioned her time with the city, her residence on the South Side and her two sons who attend CPS. “My chief focus will be ensuring that we are operating as efficiently as possible,” she explained. But when asked by Ald. Scott Waguespack (32) what specific recommendations she has to address the backlog of city fines, she asked for more time to get the lay of the land and come back with “concrete answers.”

    Ald. Harry Osterman (48) also took the opportunity to urge Keane to work with Chicago Public Schools as it faces a $1.1 billion budget deficit next school year. “I think we need revenue, and positive revenue ideas. I think we also need to look at trying to help support CPS. While it’s a sister agency, even the best case scenario out of Springfield is going to leave us short. That’s going to have a devastating effect on families in Chicago, students in Chicago.” Ald. Osterman said he’s already seeing families flee his ward because of school funding uncertainty.