After more than two hours of testimony, close to two dozen public witnesses, one room change, and one mid-meeting closed door session, the Council’s Zoning Committee approved a zoning change for the controversial Montrose Clarendon project at the site of the former Maryville/Cueno Hospital in the city’s Uptown neighborhood.

Members Present (10/17): Chairman Danny Solis (25), Vice Chairman James Cappleman (46),  Ald. Joe Moreno (1), Ald. Toni Foulkes (16), Ald. Matt O’Shea (19), Ald. Walter Burnett, Jr. (27), Ald. Deb Mell (33), Ald. Emma Mitts (38), Ald. Brendan Reilly (42), Tom Tunney (44).

The project took up the bulk of the four hour zoning meeting as residents, one-by-one, provided testimony on a zoning change that would facilitate construction of a massive housing complex with 631 units at the nearly 5-acre shuttered hospital campus.

Opponents said the Cueno Hospital buildings should be designated as landmarks, not torn down. Several lamented a $15.8 million TIF subsidy that was made available to the project, and a few demanded more affordable housing units on site. The community of homeless people living under a nearby viaduct was brought up several times as a point of outrage.

Proponents said they’re glad to finally see the site, which has been vacant for years, turned into something new. Several community leaders argued this proposal was the product of years of negotiations with the developers and touted the economic impact to the neighborhood.

At one point, after getting into a few back-and-forth arguments with residents over what is legally required as it pertains to TIF money and affordable housing, local Alderman and Committee Vice Chairman James Cappleman (46) asked that Zoning Administrator Patti Scudiero step in and explain the zoning code.

When it was finally his turn to testify, Ald. Cappleman detailed his involvement in the project, from his first month in office to yesterday’s meeting. To address the housing disparity charges raised, he said the project passed through several local community meetings, “and reflected the economic diversity of the 46th Ward.” On the TIF issue, he said the land is currently tax exempt (it was a hospital site), which means it won’t generate any money until something is built there. The new project will generate $2 to $3 million a year in property taxes, according to his count.

“Without this project our community will continue to have a boarded up, vacant building that brings more crime to this neighborhood that is already incredibly overburdened,” he concluded, somewhat shouting by this point.

Following the public comment portion, Chairman Solis called for a five minute recess for aldermen to talk privately to DPD staff. When he returned, he immediately called the item up for consideration by voice vote. “Call the roll,” people in the gallery chanted as aldermen cast their vote in unison. It was divided with a few audible “nays.”

“This is democracy in Chicago,” one person in the gallery yelled.

Ald. Joe Moreno (1), who has recently made affordable housing a soapbox issue, accused the developer’s lawyer, Mariah DiGrino with DLA Piper, of being “disingenuous” when she suggested the project “exceeded” the city’s 2007 ARO.

The joint venture by JDL Development and Harlem Irving Companies would cost $125 million and will be supported with $15.8 million in TIF assistance. 20 units, about 5% of total units, will be made affordable. The developer will also make two large cash payments totaling about $8 million to the city’s affordable housing trust fund to make up for the remaining affordable units required under the city’s 2007 affordable requirements ordinance.

The apartments would be divided between two high rise buildings. One building to be located at the northwest corner of West Montrose and North Clarendon Avenue would have 381 residential units. The other, at the northwest corner of West Agatite and North Clarendon Avenues, would hold 250 residential units. Other amenities in the new planned development would include a third single-story structure (a grocery store) at the corner of West Montrose and North Clarendon Avenues.

Other Applications

The Montrose-Clarendon project was the only item on the agenda to receive significant pushback. A couple of residents from the 4th Ward testified against an “off premise sign” at 600 S. Clark Street in the city’s Printer’s Row neighborhood.

The billboard would be too big (14 by 48 feet) and doesn’t conform with the surrounding neighborhood, said Chuck Gullett, a resident at a 60-unit condo building “catty-corner” to the location of the proposed sign. He and another resident said they were just notified about the hearing yesterday and requested that the item be held.

Chairman Danny Solis requested someone from the 4th Ward speak, but no one was present, so Ald. Brendan Reilly (42) suggested the item be held or voted down because, “the Fourth Ward has no alderman.” Ald. Will Burns (4) announced last week that he will be stepping down from his post. He’s accepting a job at Airbnb.

Ald. Joe Moreno (1) chimed in to say, “The Fourth Ward has an alderman, he’s just not here now,” and suggested the item be held. Chairman Solis held the item so the residents could work the issue out with Ald. Burns.

No one from the public (save for perennial speaker George Blakemore) testified on other proposed plans. All were approved unanimously by voice vote:

  • Landmark Status for the Marina City Towers: The committee swiftly approved landmark designation for the twin, 60-story corncob-shaped residential high-rises in the Loop. According to Ned Crawford with the city’s Landmarks Commission, the two Marina City Towers are icons because the building, often called “a city within a city,” was the the “first of its kind to layer residential, commercial, and entertainment uses into a dense high-rise complex in the city’s center.” Local Ald. Brendan Reilly (42) called the designation “long overdue.” The Commission on Chicago Landmarks made their preliminary recommendation to designate the two buildings as official landmarks in November.

  • Milwaukee TOD Gets one ‘No’ Vote: Ald. Joe Moreno voted against Vequity’s application for a zoning change to construct a six-story, 44-unit luxury high rise along a heavily trafficked intersection on Milwaukee Avenue (1920 N. Milwaukee Ave.) Moreno voted against the project because no affordable housing was provided on site. Instead, the developers will be making a cash payment to the city’s affordable housing trust fund.

  • Event Liquor Licenses: An ordinance that establishes an industrial private event license for large warehouses located in four PMDs (planned manufacturing districts) got approval from the committee. It was sponsored by Zoning Chairman Solis. According to Buildings Commissioner Judy Frydland, who testified on the ordinance because she helped draft it when she worked for the city’s Law Department, the new license would be limited to private events, such as weddings, fundraisers, corporate parties and those not open to the general public.

    The warehouse would have to be a minimum of 15,000 square feet. Alcohol would be allowed on site, insurance would be required, and a licensee would have to develop an on-site safety plan and give notice to local businesses. Chairman Solis said the ordinance would provide much needed revenue to the city, in addition to “protecting” these districts and providing a regulatory framework to keep track of these kinds of parties. Ald. Reilly voiced concern the license would lead to a lot of raves. Chairman Solis said provisions in the ordinance would prevent that. Pop-up establishments are not allowed.

    Giving the issues some context, Ald. Walter Burnett, Jr. (27) pointed to a recent incident where Mercedes Benz held a party in their Fulton Marketwarehouse and attendees clogged the streets with their cars, making it impossible for local residents to find parking. This ordinance would prevent incidents like that from happening because the surrounding community would be given the opportunity to object to the license.

Zoning Appointments

The Zoning Committee also approved Mayor Emanuel’s proposed appointment ofBlake Sercye as Chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals. Sercye was appointed to the board earlier this year and ran last month’s meeting as interim board chairman. Sercye was appointed to ZBA shortly after his unsuccessful run in 2014 for a seat on the Cook County Board of Commissioners. He lost the race, despite high profile endorsements from Mayor Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. He has served on the Illinois Medical District Commission and Chicago’s Community Development Commission.

He will replace longtime ZBA Chairman Jonathan Swain, who has moved over to the Chicago Board of Elections. Swain replaced Board of Election Commissioner Langdon Neal, who resigned at the end of 2015. Swain’s spot on the zoning board will be filled by Amanda Williams, an Auburn-Gresham native and adjunct professor of architecture at the Illinois Institute of Design. Her appointment was quickly approved yesterday without testimony. She will complete the rest of Swain’s term, which is set to expire July 1, 2020.