Despite having several contentious applications on the agenda, hardly anyone from the public spoke at yesterday’s three hour City Council Zoning meeting awkwardly led by Vice Chairman James Cappleman (46) and committee staffers who guided him by regularly whispering his cues and correcting his motions.

Save for Council fixture George Blakemore, who testified on almost every application, and another Council regular from Lincoln Park, Allan Mellis, who spoke in support of a new modern-style hotel in his neighborhood, several large scale projects that received a sizable amount of public opposition at the December Plan Commission meeting breezed through yesterday’s meeting without much detail or debate.

Committee Members Present (7/17): Vice Chairman James Cappleman (46), Joe Moreno (1), Toni Foulkes (16), Matt O’Shea (19), Walter Burnett (27), Tom Tunney (44), Ameya Pawar (47).
Other Aldermen Present: Will Burns (4), Deb Mell (33), Michele Smith (43)

Spending an average of five minutes per application, the committee advanced zoning changes to allow construction of a new 24-story luxury high-rise and office building in River North, updated plans for an 11-story luxury condo building next to the landmark Village Theater in Old Town, and a proposal to transform the landmark Colvin House in Edgewater into office space, among several others.

Only one project garnered aldermanic opposition, and it was over the issue of affordable housing units. Ald. Joe Moreno (1) tried to block Marc Realty’s plan to build two identical mixed-use, luxury condo buildings with 220-units at the site of the former Discount Mega Mall in Logan Square. Moreno, whose ward neighbors the project, was concerned the developers would fall back on their promise to provide affordable housing, prompting a technical debate about codifying the law in zoning applications.

When the project was brought up for consideration at yesterday’s meeting, the applicant’s attorney, Carol Stubblefield with the law firm Neal & Leroy, testified that 10 percent, or 22 units, will be made affordable as required under the city’s old Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO).

Noting the 220-unit count did not match the 240 unit count listed on the agenda, Moreno asked for a point of clarification to make sure the promised affordable units were codified in the planned development statements.

Zoning Administrator Patti Scudiero noted that when the developer filed the application in September, the last month before beefed up ARO requirements took effect, the developer initially listed 240-units, but later scaled the number down to appease local residents. The change was noted at the Plan Commission meeting, she added.

But Ald. Moreno pressed on, taking issue with the language in the PD statement, which says the developer must provide the 22 affordable units “or” make an in lieu cash payment to the city. Since the cash payment is required when building permits are issued, not when the zoning change is approved, the standard PD language regarding affordable housing is usually written as an option, Scudiero noted.

An exhibit in the application states the developer will add affordable units on site, and meeting records further codify the requirements, Stubblefield added. But Moreno said that wasn’t good enough, saying he was worried the contradictory statements would lead to a legal battle over which document supersedes the other.

“You can’t come up here and say it’s codified in the agreement that they have to do it on site when there is legal language that says they can buy out of it,” Moreno argued. “Mr. Chairman, you’re in charge, but I don’t see how the committee can move forward on this when such an important issue of the project is in limbo.”

By this point the attorney was annoyed, noticeably raising her voice to again argue the issue is codified. Ald. Ameya Pawar (47) suggested the committee strike the word “or” so the committee could move on. But Vice Chairman Cappleman fumbled on the motion, accidently asking the committee to strike the language that would require the affordable units instead. Several yelled “no” and Scudiero had to step in to say the department would strike the language after “or”. The committee approved the motion, finally putting the issue to rest.

Updates on Proposed Medical Marijuana Security Changes, New Event Liquor License

The committee deferred a proposal to amend security requirements for medical marijuana dispensaries that operate in Chicago. The ordinance co-sponsored by Ald. Ed Burke (14) and Ald. Willie Cochran (20) would reverse a city requirement Burke pushed for and ultimately got approved in 2014 that requires  around-the-clock security guards at dispensaries. The change would loosen the restrictions to require security only when the dispensary is open for business. That item was deferred because Ald. Burke is amending his proposal, and a substitute is expected to be introduced at the next zoning meeting on January 20th, according to a legislative aide for the committee.

The aide also noted that Chairman Danny Solis (25) is amending his proposal to create a new liquor license for large-scale private parties. The ordinance Solis introduced in July would eliminate Class A and B licenses and create a new license with a fee structure based on the number of attendees, starting at $700 for an event with at least 350 attendees and capped at $4,000 for an event with 4,000 patrons. The committee will take up a substitute on that ordinance at the January 20th meeting, too.

Highlights of Approved Items

Co-Working Space Planned for Edgewater Landmark (48th Ward): A proposal to turn Edgewater’s historic Colvin House at 5940 N. Sheridan Road into a co-working space for young professionals advanced in committee. Built in 1901 and designed by Architect George W. Maher, the yellow, three-story mansion on the the corner of Thorndale Avenue and Sheridan Road is one of the last remaining lakefront mansions from the turn of the 20th century. Citing its “[d]ominant central entries, broad hipped roofs, bold rectangular massing, and complementary landscaping,” the city designated the home a Chicago landmark in 1994.

Angela Valavanis, the applicant behind the zoning change, owns a Creative Co-Working space in downtown Evanston and wants to open a similar facility in the 77,000-square-foot home. “This particular building is gorgeous, seems perfect and gives me an opportunity to also restore a historic landmark and open it up to the community to be a shared resource,” she testified. Zoning Administrator Patti Scudiero says she lives across the street from the home and spoke in support, saying, “This [home] has sat empty for quite a long time, and in the summertime the parcel is so beautiful, but the weeds prevent anyone from seeing the beauty on this corner.” According to Curbed Chicago, the property was listed in April for $1.2 million dollars.

Chicago Police Officer to Open Art Gallery for Kids on West Side (27th Ward): The Zoning Committee approved Chicago Police Officer Corry Williams’ application to remodel a vacant, one-story building in the East Garfield neighborhood on the city’s West Side and transform it into an art gallery for neighborhood youth.

According to his attorney, Rolando Acosta, Officer Williams bought the approximately 1,500-square-foot building at 345 N. Kedzie Ave. as a way to, “engage the community and bringing other activities that children can engage in, other than those that we wish they did not.”

Testifying in support of the project, local 27th Ward Ald. Walter Burnett noted the neighborhood was once a heavily industrial area but most of the surrounding buildings have since been converted to live-work lofts or live-work art spaces, “This is pretty much an artistical [sic] area.”

Williams had sought a zoning change from a manufacturing district (M1-2) to a neighborhood commercial district (C1-2) to facilitate the remodel, but his attorney corrected the record to reflect a mistake: they’re seeking a business district (B1-2) per request of the local community.

The subject site includes a detached, two-car garage (approx. 630-square-feet) and according to the application, plans also call for “workspace or retail or office uses”. The city issued a construction permit for the property in October 2015 for $60,000 in expected renovations that will include a “build-out for new general contractor’s office and new construction of rear masonry garage.”

Lofts for Former East Village Polish Center (1st Ward): The Ashland Church of God, the historic and distinctly orange Polish community center at 1062-1100 N. Ashland Ave. will be turned into residential lofts. Developer Mark Sutherland’s so-called East Village Lofts will house 34-residential units divided among the building’s five floors. A breakdown of the planned residential units was not provided at the meeting, but according to the East Village Association, the building will have four studio apartments, 16 one-bedroom units, and 13 two-bedroom units.

Sutherland sought a rezone to demolish part of the building. The existing orange facade will remain, per community request, according to Sutherland’s attorney.

Since the development is 700 feet from the CTA’s Blue Line, it was filed as a Transit Oriented Development (TOD). The developer agreed to provide the required 10 percent ratio of affordable units. But those units, according to 1st Ward Ald. Joe Moreno, will be built off-site, as allowed in the new “linkage” provision added to the updated 2015 ARO requirements.

Aldermanic Applications (Highlights)

Several aldermanic applications were deferred in committee, mostly because none of them showed up to testify at yesterday’s meeting.

11th Ward Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson’s proposed downzone of the landmarked Spiegel Administration Building in Bridgeport and 8th Ward Ald. Michelle Harris’ downzone of the iconic Sears store in Grand Crossing.

A staff assistant for Ald. Harris, Michelle Evans, did, however, come down to testify on behalf of Harris’ other application: a downzone of a jerk chicken shop and adjacent parking lot at 1652-56 E. 79th Street in the South Shore neighborhood. After Vice Chairman Cappleman read the application and motioned for Evans to speak, she did not provide any details, saying, “The alderman is in support of this zone change.” As Cappleman opened the floor up for questions–(no one had any)–a zoning committee staff assistant whispered to Evans, whose mic was still on, “No, she introduced it, she is probably doing it for land use planning.”

“Okay,” Evans said before going back on mic to add, “for land use planning.”

In fact, 19th Ward Ald. Matt O’Shea was the only alderman to speak on behalf of his zoning applications. He had three in all: two rezone requests, which the committee approved, modestly rezone portions of Kedzie Avenue to make the commercial strip more uniform. The other application, listed on the deferred agenda, downzones a portion of the 1100 block of South Ridge Avenue from a community shopping district to a residential single-unit district. The change was needed because the surrounding properties are already zoned for residential use, according to Ald. O’Shea.

Ald. Deb Silverstein’s (50) proposed downzone of a building across from Warren Park, where a medical marijuana dispensary wanted to locate, was deferred to February. The dispensary, 420 Capital Management, failed to secure the special use permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals, a week after their attorney accused Silverstein of making an illegal zoning change as an attempt to block his client from moving to the location. The property, 6501-11 N. Western Avenue, is zoned for motor vehicle and commercial uses, but Silverstein wants it reclassified for single family homes. According to a legislative aide for the Zoning Committee, Ald. Silverstein is now seeking a larger designation, so the item has to be re-published and re-noticed.