Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s initial attempt to roll back aldermanic prerogative significantly changed the way the city’s Planning and Development and Housing departments operate, according to a report from the mayor’s office detailing the changes.
The release of the report, pegged to Lightfoot’s 60th day in office, signals the end of the first phase of Lightfoot’s efforts to make good on her central campaign promise to root out corruption at City Hall, where at least three apparently separate corruption investigations are underway.
Representatives of the mayor’s office promised that more changes to the way the city issues licenses and permits are on the way — and that officials have begun examining the city’s zoning code with an eye toward ending aldermen’s “unchecked vetoes” on development proposals.
Department of Planning and Development
The creation of new tax-increment financing districts, redevelopment agreements and expenditures from the funds derided by critics as slush funds for aldermen no longer require a letter of support from the local alderman, according to the report prepared by planning officials after what they said was an “exhaustive investigation.”
In addition, aldermen cannot block or approve the sale of city property now that Lightfoot’s order is fully in effect — a move that has already drawn pushback from a handful of aldermen. That group is backing a resolution (R2019-593) introduced by Ald. Raymond Lopez (15) in July that calls for that power to be restored.
Lopez said the change — which includes the Dollar Lots program and Large Lots program could allow individuals and firms “not from the community or with no interest in preserving the rich history of the greater Englewood community” an “unfettered opportunity” to purchase thousands of lots.
In addition, planning officials will no longer get verbal approval for grants made from the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund, which had $168 million in it when Lightfoot took office. Until Lightfoot’s executive order, projects totaling less than $250,000 required verbal approval from aldermen, and projects totalling more than $250,000 no longer require a letter of support from the local aldermen — while city law still requires approval of an ordinance for those large grants.
The fund, filled by developers who want to build taller and more dense developments than allowed under city law, was created by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in response to criticism that the South and West Sides had been left behind by the boom in construction in the Loop.
In addition, a temporary system is now in place to track all “aldermanic input” received by planning officials, which also details when aldermen will be notified, according to the report.. That consultant will typically take place once an application is submitted and before a measure is submitted to City Council.
Other permits issued by the Department of Planning and Development that no longer require an alderman’s support include:
- Property tax incentive applications
- Demolition applications
- Landmark designation applications
- Landmark permit fee waiver applications
- Planned development applications that have not advanced
- Applications to the Plan Commission
- Small Business Improvement Fund requests from tax-increment finance districts
- Special Service Area commissioner appointments and budgets
Department of Housing
Lightfoot’s executive order — issued within hours of her taking office in May — significantly scales back aldermen’s ability to exempt the developers of large housing projects from the Affordable Requirements Ordinance.
No longer will the city give aldermen the ability to approve a “hardship” exemption from the ordinance, which typically requires developments of 10 or more units to set aside 10 percent of units for low- and moderate-income residents.
That power will now rest with Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara, who will also have the final say over whether developers will be able to fulfill that requirement by building units elsewhere in the city but not as part of the project.
Other permits issued by the Department of Planning and Development that no longer require the alderman’s support include:
- City Lots for Working Families applications
- Multifamily housing development financing
- Parade of Homes applications
- Preserving Communities Together.
Department of Streets and Sanitation
Aldermen can no longer order crews to remove 20 live trees per ward annually — a power that dates back to 1990.
In addition, the replacement of damaged or stolen black garbage carts — a perennial source of frustration for homeowners — can no longer be ordered by aldermen.
Instead, all requests for tree removals will “be considered on a case by case basis” by officials with the Streets and Sanitation Department and garbage carts will be delivered directly to homes that request them, rather than first to the ward office and then by aldermanic staff to the homes.
Department of Transportation
Transportation officials no longer require a green light from an alderman before moving forward with three permits: street or alley access for businesses or property owners; permission to create people spots and the location of Divvy bicycle-sharing stations.
However, permits for block parties still require a letter of support from aldermen, even though that is not required by the city code. A new ordinance governing block parties is under consideration, officials said.
Department of Buildings
Aldermen will continue to receive nightly reports via email of building permits applied for and issued in their respective wards and have access to a password-protected website to access the same data, according to the report prepared by the Department of Buildings.
But those emails are a “matter of courtesy,” according to the report.
An overhaul of the city’s building code reform — passed just before Lightfoot took office — removed a requirement to wait 10 days before issuing a variety of permits, including those for cell phone towers and large signs, according to the report.
While welcoming aldermanic input, the department’s aldermanic liaison, Earnestine Black, keeps a “log of aldermanic inquiries that are sent to her or to department employees other than the senior leadership team” which is made up of Commissioner Judy Fryland, her deputy and assistant commissioners, according to the report from the Department of Buildings.
According to the 14-count indictment filed against Ald. Ed Burke (14), the beleaguered alderman asked Fryland, as well as another unidentified administrator, to “figure out a way” to approve a permit requested by a Portage Park businessman who has been charged with bribing Burke by hiring his private law firm.
Fryland was not identified by name in the indictment, but she was commissioner at the time.
Department of Fleet and Facility Management
Aldermen no longer have the power to block the lease of city property, or the purchase of property for city use.
Officials with the Department of Fleet and Facility Management will email aldermen twice during the process to solicit their feedback — first when the proposal is first considered, and again before the agreement is finalized, according to the report prepared by the department.
A similar process is now in place for proposals for the city to purchase or lease property, according to the report.
Those requirements are in place to ensure that a “clear process” is in place to incorporate aldermanic feedback, officials in Lightfoot’s administration said.
Office of Budget and Management
Department officials who want to use funds from tax-increment financing district will no longer need a letter of support from the alderman whose ward includes the TIF district, according to the report prepared by Budget Director Susie Park.
Instead, aldermen will only have to be “notified,” according to the report.
Office of the Chief Financial Officer
The city’s Chief Financial Officer Jennie Huang Bennett said she will no longer allow aldermen to block efforts to convert traditional loading zones to commercial loading zones as part of a pilot program now underway, according to the report.
Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events
Aldermen will no longer be allowed to block — or approve — special event permits issued by the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, according to the report.
Department of Finance / Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection
City code gives aldermen the authority to approve or reject disabled, industrial and residential parking permits, and the mayor’s order does not change that, according to the report from the Department of Finance.
In addition, aldermen will retain the power to approve permits for use of the public way required for signs, sidewalk cafes and awnings, according to the report from the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.
Aldermen will also retain the power to impose or lift moratoriums on liquor licenses bans well as introducing bans on shared-housing units by introducing and passing an ordinance, as allowed by city code.