Redevelopment plans for the old Malcolm X College campus on the city’s near West Side breezed through the Chicago Plan Commission yesterday, receiving unanimous support, while two proposed luxury-high rise developments faced significant pushback, once again sparking a larger debate over the city’s affordable housing requirements.
“I just want to remind the Commission that one of our jobs as a commissioner is to vote the law. And the law right now is something different than what we might believe or morally want, and I think we have to remember that,” Comm. Linda Searle told her colleagues at the conclusion of yesterday’s meeting.
Her comments came after three members on the commission–Ald. Joe Moore (49),John Bryant and Juan Linares–announced they would be voting against a seven-story, 44-unit residential building planned for a busy intersection in Wicker Park because none of the units will be made affordable.
Vequity’s plans to build the seven-story residential building at a busy intersection on the corner of Milwaukee next to the Western Avenue Blue Line stop. According Kyle Glascott, one of the members on Vequity’s development team, most of the units will be 600-square-foot one-bedroom units. Their target audience is “young professionals” and they’re hoping to lease out the ground floor commercial space to a “transit oriented” retail operator, like a cafe or bike-repair shop, he explained.
It wasn’t until the team finished their presentation that the issue of affordable housing was brought up. When Commissioner Joe Moore asked Glascott why the team chose to to pay the in-lieu fee into the city’s affordable housing trust fund instead of providing affordable units on site, Glascott said it was an “equitable contribution.”
“So, no other reason than you didn’t want to do it?” Comm. Moore responded in an abrupt, sarcastic manner.
Comm. Walter Burnett (27) pressed on, asking if Glasscott would be more open to providing affordable housing off-site. It depends on the economics, Glasscott responded, adding that his team is working on another development in Lakeview that will have on-site affordable housing. That’s because it was something I insisted,Comm. Tom Tunney (44), who represents Lakeview, chimed in.
“This is a tragedy, this development,” Ald. Joe Moreno (1) later decried. Moreno isn’t a member on the commission but asked to speak on the project, because the street borders his ward, and, as he explained, “I am going to get blamed for this because everyone thinks this is my ward.”
“We need affordable units on the North Side desperately,” he started shouting, calling out local Ald. Scott Waguespack (32) for not doing his job and demanding the units. Waguespack was not in attendance.
Despite the concerns voiced, the project passed.
JDL Development’s plan to build a massive housing complex with more than 600 units at the site of the former Cuneo Hospital and Maryville Academy Shelter in the city’s Uptown neighborhood got a lot of pushback, too.
More than a dozen people signed up to testify against the redevelopment plan, many lamenting a TIF subsidy approved last week to help pay for the project.
New Commissioners’ Discomfort
The Plan Commission doesn’t deal with TIFs, it only handles zoning issues, but that issue took center stage at yesterday’s meeting after one of the newer commissioners,Bishop John Bryant, took a moment to voice his disappointment with the city’s inequity, saying he was “misled” when he accepted a spot on the board and “disturbed and upset” with the affordable housing issue. (He thought TIF money is supposed to pay for affordable housing, but it isn’t).
“My life has been speaking for the poor, marginalized, and oppressed,” Bryant began, “The unemployment rate is alarming. I’ve sat on this commission trusting those who invited me to serve, and I have acted on this committee with a great deal of trust from those who invited me.”
Department of Planning and Development Commissioner David Reifman stepped in at that and several other occasions to remind his colleagues that while he agrees more should be done to promote affordable housing across the city, all of the development plans before them yesterday went through an extensive review process by the department and follow the legal affordable housing requirements.
Comm. Bryant and Linares voted against the proposal. Comm. Tunney abstained.
Blackhawks, Rush Hospital Proposals
The Blackhawks Hockey Club’s proposal to build a community ice rink and training facility for its players on a portion of the old Malcolm X College campus was the least controversial plan before the committee yesterday, and most of their presentation focused on the community benefits that will come once the 127,00 square foot project is finished.
“This vision really will help children in the area…children of all income levels will be able to participate in ice hockey and also obtain guidance through our staff through nutrition, physical fitness and tutoring,” explained Peter Hassen, director of marketing for the Blackhawks.
In fact, the only concern raised about the project had to do with the logistics of busing students to the hockey rink and whether it was odd having their facility next door to Rush University.
“There seems to be, on the face of it, two disparate uses here. We have hospital facilities on one side and a hockey rink on the other… how do you reconcile those challenges?” Comm. Linares asked Hassen, who responded that there’s “opportunity” for collaboration.
Rush University will take a majority of the 11 acre site to build a 1.4 million square foot “academic village” that’ll include three academic buildings and one dormitory for 300 students.
University President Peter Butler says while student enrollment has doubled over recent years, current facilities haven’t kept up. He says some of the facility’s technology is nearly half a century old.
Construction will be done in phases, Mara Georges, an attorney with Daley and Georges Law Firm, told the commission. Under the agreement with the city, Rush University has a six-year window to start phase one. Once that’s complete, they’ll have an additional three-to-five years to begin working on each of the following three phases of the project.
That leaves about a 21-year timeline for completion, Comm. Linares tallied up when asking Georges to explain the lengthy timeline. Financing the $500 million project will take time and is just one of a number of projects the university is working on, she explained.
A few other commissioners were unsettled with a provision in the application that gives Rush University the ability to amend future phases of the project administratively with the Department of Planning and Development, without the public review process they went through yesterday.