At their monthly meeting held yesterday, the Chicago Plan Commission unanimously approved architect Helmut Jahn’s proposed residential tower for South Michigan Avenue, while newly-appointed 4th Ward Ald. Sophia King, in her first appearance before the land-use body, successfully tabled a vote on an application from the Chicago Park District that would have expanded a parking lot serving visitors of the 31st Street beach and harbor, which are in her ward.

The Park District sought approval to significantly expand the existing surface parking lot off 3100 S. Lake Shore Drive from 159 to 422 stalls. Heather Gleason, the Director of Planning and Development for the Park District, said it’s part of a six-year-long development plan for the harbor, with the goal of providing more parking to one of the city’s most popular beaches. The district already received approval from the city’s Transportation and Fire departments, and had a letter of approval on file from Ald. King’s predecessor, Will Burns. Gleason said Burns had been working with the District on this development plan for upwards of a year.

But Ald. King took issue with a permanent sign she says is prominently displayed at the entrance of the parking lot that states only people with harbor passes are allowed to park in the lot.

“My kids grew up here and went to the beach, and I know personally we’ve been turned away,” said Ald. King, “So I just want to make sure that any parking plans that are there, that the residents’ input are accurately taken into consideration.”

In a briefing she had on the project the night before, King said she was told the parking lot would be open to the public. She said she then drove to the beach to check for herself, only to find a “permanent” sign noting the contrary.

“I want to make sure that in the plans there is proper access for everyday beachgoers who want to go to the beach as they’ve been doing,” she noted. “I don’t want community members to feel like they’re being pushed out of their park.”

Park District Superintendent and CEO Mike Kelly, who is also a member of the Plan Commission and had requested the application be heard early so he could attend a funeral service, promised to address her concerns and urged the other commissioners to approve the project.

“I do want to remind everyone at the commission this was a $100 million dollar investment by the taxpayers for this community. The park was built for the community,” Comm. Kelly said. “It’s one of the most popular beaches… In fact, it was so popular that that we needed to expand on the parking. The parking is for the boaters and the parking is for the community. It’s a parking lot.”

But Ald. King countered that his good faith effort was “tainted” because his commitment was not conveyed to her the night before. “The inconsistency there bothers me.”

Chairman Martin Cabrera deferred to King and said he would temporarily table the item while she and the Park District worked out the issues offline. The application was supposed to be brought up at the end of the meeting, but before adjournment, Cabrera announced that he would defer the item for a later date.

Another application from the Park District, a proposed 8,000-square-foot concession stand at Maggie Daley Park, received unanimous approval. The concession stand will overlook the Buckingham Fountain, and will have a sloping, 6,800-square-foot landscaped green roof. The building will have floor to ceiling windows, a “vegetated wall system”, and an expansive pedestrian plaza. Most of the presentation focused on desperately needed public restrooms for that area of the park. The closest bathroom, the fieldhouse near Randolph Street, is about a 1500-2000 foot walk away.

And internationally-known architect Helmut Jahn traveled to Chicago to present his proposed 832-foot residential tower for 1000 S. Michigan Avenue, across the street from Grant Park. Jahn shaved about 200 feet off the tower and did a complete redesign of his original plan, which first called for a more than 1,000-square-foot building.

The design was the product of a lengthy international competition, Jahn said, and he sought to design a building that would “stand the test of time.” The building’s “tough character,” as he described it, slopes upward, starting from a rectangle and ending with a parallelogram.  

Calling the project a “very strong downtown building that will complement our skyline,” Department of Planning and Development Commissioner David Reifmanthanked Jahn for working with the Landmarks Commission in making the building more compatible with the historic district.  

The project, which will have 506 units, was submitted prior to the beefed-up affordable housing requirements took effect. And the developers, a joint venture of JK Equities and Time Equities, took advantage of the Affordable Housing Bonus, which lets them pay an in-lieu fee of $828,502.40. No affordable units will be provided on site, a point that irked two aldermen on the Plan Commission: Tom Tunney (44) and Walter Burnett (27).

Of those 506 units, 70 percent (358 units) will be condos. The remaining 148 units, to be located at the bottom half of the building, will be rentals. Local Ald. King asked for the price points of the units, but JK Equities did not have that information, saying they’re still working on their costs.

The overall project would cost $385 million, according to the developer’s attorney, Jack George. Pending City Council approval, it’s expected to bring in $105 million in real estate taxes over the next ten years.

Two residents from the neighboring 910 South Michigan Avenue building testified on the project; one against, the other in favor. Elaine Soble, who opposed the project, said it would cause a tremendous shadow over Grant Park and “makes a mockery that [Michigan Avenue] is a landmarked area.” She said “everyone” at her building agreed with her, but then Stephen Gabelnick, another 910 resident, said Soble was speaking for herself and that he heard no such opposition from residents.