After some last minute wrangling with aldermen and an unusual placement of a roll call vote, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Department of Planning and Development Commissioner David Reifman successfully pushed their revamp of the density bonus system for downtown developers through the Council yesterday.

The so-called “Neighborhood Opportunity Bonus” will leverage money from downtown development through a formula that lets builders add extra square-footage in return for a fee that will help support private investment in some of the city’s most underserved neighborhoods.  

An aide for Ald. Brendan Reilly (42), who opposed the plan in Zoning Committee for what he said were glaring transparency issues over fund allocation, told Aldertrack ahead of yesterday’s full City Council meeting the alderman planned to use parliamentary procedure to block a vote for another month. On Tuesday, during the committee hearing on the plan, Ald. Reilly had a heated exchange with Commissioner Reifman and accused him of designing a “slush” fund with limited Council control.

Aldertrack also overheard Commissioner Reifman yesterday in the doorway to the chambers urging Ald. David Moore (17), another alderman who voted against the plan in committee, not to block the ordinance. Reifman told the Englewood alderman not to defer and publish, and said the bonus would be good for his neighborhood.

Making the entire event even stranger, when the Council’s committee chairmen reported out ordinances for the full body to approve, Zoning Chairman Danny Soliswent first. He only brought up the Mayor’s Neighborhood Opportunity Bonus for consideration, then yielded the floor. Usually Finance Chairman Ed Burke (14) reports out his ordinances first.

Chairman Solis asked for a roll call vote on the Neighborhood Opportunity Bonus. And as the Deputy Clerk Carina Sanchez began the roll in rapid fire, before aldermen could move to their seats to vote, Steve Patton, the head of the city’s Law Department audibly called to her to slow down from his spot on the dais. “No, no, no, this is a real vote,” Patton could be heard on mic telling her, “explain to her this is a real vote.”

Once the roll call vote began again, and aldermen moved back to their seats, the measure passed 45-2. Ald. Leslie Hairston (5) joined Ald. Reilly in voting no, while Ald. Moore switched his vote to the affirmative.

Once the item passed, the meeting returned to the regular order of business with Finance Chairman Burke’s Committee reports, which included the sale of $600 million in general obligation bonds and $3.2 million in police-related settlements. Both passed unanimously without discussion, although Ald. Rod Sawyer (6) and Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11) abstained from voting on the bonds under provisions of Rule 14.

A plan to make leaving pet waste on private property a finable offense didn’t make it out of Council yesterday. Four aldermen, Leslie Hairston (5), Brendan Reilly (42), Nick Sposato (38), and Raymond Lopez (15), deferred and published the measure. That plan from Mayor Emanuel and Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35) was originally introduced, Rosa said, because there is no law on the books allowing residents to complain about pet waste piling up in their neighbor’s yard.

“I don’t think citizens should be expected to be on poop watch 24-7,” Ald. Hairston told Aldertrack after she delayed the vote. Even though the ordinance provides that homeowners would be warned before getting hit with a fine of up to $500, Ald. Hairston said the regulations could use some fine-tuning so homeowners don’t get hit with a fine when someone else’s dog defecates on their lawn. “The fine doesn’t go to the dogs that are pooping, the fine goes to the person whose lawn they’re pooping on,” she added.

Introductions (Highlights)

  • New City Comptroller – Erin Keane, the First Deputy Comptroller, will replace the city’s current Comptroller, Dan Widawsky, who has held the position since January 2014 and is stepping down from the job to “pursue other professional endeavors,” according to a press release from the Mayor’s Office. Keane’s appointment is subject to City Council approval, although she has been serving as the acting Comptroller since May 1st. In her prior capacity as first deputy, Keane oversaw day to day operations within the city’s Finance Department. Pending her appointment, the administration’s financial team will be all-female, as she will be working closely with Budget Director Alex Holt and Chief Financial Officer Carole Brown.

  • Three Non-binding Ballot Referenda –  One proposed ballot referendum from Mayor Emanuel would ask Chicago voters who go to the polls this November whether the state should strengthen penalties for illegal trafficking of firearms and require background checks for gun dealers and their employees. Another proposed referendum from Ald. Scott Waguespack (32) would ask voters if an elected Independent Airport Authority should govern Chicago’s two airports, O’Hare and Midway. The airport referendum was drafted in consultation with SEIU, which represents airport workers, and has 27 signatures so far. The third referendum, introduced by newly appointed Education Chair Howard Brookins, Jr. (20), would simply ask voters: Should the State of Illinois provide full and equitable funding for Chicago Public Schools? State law limits the number of ballot referendums to three per jurisdiction. You can check out the schedule for submitting ballot referenda here (starting on page 23). All three ballot resolutions were forwarded to the Council’s Rules Committee.

  • Easing Spray Paint Restrictions – Ald. Burke and Ald. Matt O’Shea (19) want to lift a city ban on retailers selling spray paint, while increasing penalties on people found using the paint to deface buildings. Ald. Buke and O’Shea introduced an ordinance at yesterday’s City Council meeting that would let retailers sell the spray paint to consumers who are 18 or older. Under the plan, retailers would be allowed to only sell spray paint, broad-tipped markers and etching equipment if those items are behind a restricted area not available to the general public. Stores would also have to publicly display warnings that state, “Vandalism is against the law and punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and incarceration for a term of up to 30 days.” As for the fines, minors found in possession of the paint would face fines of up to $500 per offense and be required to perform community service. Those over 18-years of age found in violation of the ordinance, which includes buying the paint or other “graffiti implements”, would face fines of up to $1,500 for each offense.

  • Anti-Discrimination in Public Restrooms – Likely a response to the national attention over transgender rights in public restrooms, Mayor Emanuel and City Council’s recently-formed LGBT Caucus introduced an ordinance that would amend the municipal code concerning discriminatory practices in public restrooms. It amends the definition of “sex” to include “both biological category and gender identity” and states that “Each person determines his or her own gender identity; no proof shall be required except his or her expression of his or her gender.” The measure follows new guidelines recently issued by Chicago Public Schools.

  • Hopkins Wants Finkl Steel Redevelopment Money for Local Development – Citing constant gridlock, poorly paved roads and limited river access in his ward, Ald. Brian Hopkins (2) introduced a plan that would commit 90% of the fees, funds and tax increment financing generated from the redevelopment of the Clybourn Planned Manufacturing District for local street and public transit improvements. DPD has yet to formally announce how and when it plans to decommission some of the city’s PMDs, which are large swaths of industrial areas protected by strict zoning rules that were put in place decades ago to protect manufacturing jobs in the city. But Hopkins wants to get ahead of the curve. During yesterday’s City Council meeting, Hopkins was speaking at the City Club about his vision for the Clybourn Corridor. “Public money that is generated by this private development should be used to establish public infrastructure to create open space and connective areas that can be accessed by the public.” He floated the idea of building new roads to connect to the portion of Armitage Avenue the city vacated for Finkl Steel, better access to the Kennedy Expressway, and a new bridge to ease gridlock. (Hopkins’ Full Speech)