A map shows what the proposed Amazon shipping and logistics center along the Chicago River in Bridgeport would look like.
PROVIDED

The Amazon plan along the Chicago River set off a debate about the future of logistics centers in Chicago. One commissioner called for a moratorium on approvals, noting that most of the facilities are landing on the South and West Sides.

By | Block Club Chicago

CHICAGO — A proposed Amazon distribution facility in Bridgeport narrowly secured approval from a key city committee Thursday, but the hearing turned into a debate on the future placement of logistics centers throughout the city.

The Chicago Plan Commission approved the 112,000-square-foot Amazon shipping and logistics center at 2424 S. Halsted St. along the South Branch of the Chicago River. Despite community opposition, the board endorsed the project by an 8-6 vote, a rare close decision for the commission.

The vote followed an extensive back-and-forth between Plan Commission Chairwoman Teresa Córdova and Department of Planning and Development Commissioner Maurice Cox, who also sits on the commission.

With online shopping booming, Amazon and other e-commerce leaders like Target have opened large “last mile” facilities in Chicago to reach consumers. But they’ve been concentrated on the South and West Sides, angering some residents who say the facilities bring heavy truck traffic and environmental concerns.

Amazon has planned distribution centers in Pullman and Gage Park, and operates an existing warehouse on Goose Island. Hilco Redevelopment Partners is building a distribution hub for Target at the old Crawford Coal Plant in Little Village.

But Córdova, who opposed Amazon’s proposal to set up shop in Bridgeport, used the meeting to call for a moratorium on considering applications for new logistic facilities until the city’s Department of Planning and Development develops a citywide strategy to locate the sites.

“Where are they going? They’re going to the South, Southeast and Southwest locations, so let’s not be disingenuous about acknowledging that,” Córdova said.

California-based developer Prologis is spearheading the construction of the 23-acre Amazon center between Halsted Street and Senour Avenue in the Pilsen Industrial Corridor that would include 487 parking spaces.

The developer’s attorney anticipated 12-16 trucks would visit the site daily, a claim Córdova later disputed.

Nearly 1,900 feet of publicly accessible riverwalk with seating areas and “floating wetlands” in the river are included in the plans.

Renderings of a publicly accessible riverwalk that would be part of a massive shipping and logistics facility for Amazon in Bridgeport. PROVIDED

Cox said the logistics and distribution sector is “growing rapidly” and Chicagoans “have to accept” the facilities will be a part of the future economy. His staff worked with Amazon to ensure community benefits like the riverwalk, and each new application would be a “test case” to learn how best to situate distribution centers across the city, Cox said.

“We can anticipate that we are going to have more requests for these facilities throughout Chicago and they will not be on just the West Side or the South Side,” he said.

But Córdova, who is the director of the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago, pushed back against Cox’s claim the logistics centers will be popping up across the city.

Córdova said city officials shouldn’t put their “head in the sand” and fail to recognize “the land use changes that have been occurring have created high-priced properties on the North Side and removing those industrial locations.”

“Commissioner Cox makes the point that they’re going to be all over the city. Well, they are not all over the city, and they haven’t been all over the city,” Córdova said. “The applications are coming from the South and Southwest Sides.”

Córdova also highlighted a lack of community support for the development in rebuffing the proposal. Several neighborhood and citywide groups have opposed it, including the Metropolitan Planning Council, Bridgeport Alliance, Chicago Asian Americans for Environmental Justice, Active Transportation Alliance and the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.

The large trucks entering the site would contribute to pollution in the neighborhood, and because the trucks would enter the site from Halsted Street, they would create a dangerous stretch for cyclists, Córdova argued.

“Do we want to make this a bicycle-friendly city, or is that only for some neighborhoods? Is that only for some people?” she asked.

Cox said the city will begin a study of Southwest Side industrial zoning early next year that will take approximately two years to complete.

But in the meantime, “we cannot put a moratorium on development in these areas,” he said. Instead the city must urge developers to build more environmentally friendly sites, including electric fleets.

Commissioners Andre Brumfield, Sarah Lyons, Linda Searl, Deborah Moore and Guancolda Reyes joined Córdova in voting against the proposal. All work outside government and were appointed to the board by Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Commissioner Fran Grossman, who also works in the private sector, supported the proposal. The seven other votes in favor were all city officials: Cox, Department of Transportation Commissioner Gia Biagi, Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th), Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), Ald. Gilbert Villegas, and Zoning Administrator Patrick Murphy.

Gold Coast Luxury High-Rise Secures Approval

Plans for a 35-story luxury condo tower at 40 W. Oak St. in the the Gold Coast were also approved Thursday.

The 75-unit tower from New York-based Nahla Capita is located across the street from the Newberry Library and Ogden Elementary School. Following community feedback, he plan was scaled down from an earlier version that called for 90 condos to be built.

The project is expected to cost nearly $165 million to complete and will eventually contribute $3 million in taxes when complete. The development area includes the Warren Barr rehab center at 66 W. Oak St., which would remain.

The developer does not plan to offer affordable units on site and will pay $1.9 million, or $238,340 per unit, into a city fund to fulfill a requirement.

Small Cheval Plans West Loop Outpost

Hogsalt Management, the restaurant group behind Au Cheval, which ranks among the best burgers in the nation, was approved to build its newest Small Cheval location at 1352 W. Lake St. in the West Loop.

The group plans to convert a one-story building into a 2,085-square-foot restaurant with a 3,800-square-foot patio that would be open year-round.

Currently, Hogsalt operates three Small Cheval locations at 1732 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Wicker Park, at 1345 N.Wells St. in Old Town, and 150 N. Riverside just west of the Chicago River downtown, although the latter location is currently closed.

Other Projects Approved

The commission also approved an application to the city’s Lakefront Protection Ordinance by the Japanese American Service Committee Housing Corporation and Related Midwest to complete a $35 million renovation of the Heiwa Terrace senior living facility at 920 W. Lawrence Ave. in Uptown.

Originally built in 1978 to provide housing to aging Japanese Americans, the all-affordable housing complex will add three units for a total of 204 senior-living units and will retain a 12,220-square-foot Japanese garden.

Three other proposals were approved by the commission on Thursday:

  • An amendment to the planned development application submitted by the Habitat Companies, allowing for the addition of a drive-thru ATM facility at its affordable mixed-use Ogden Commons development underway at Ogden and Talman avenues in the 28th Ward.
  • A planned development application allowing developer Belgravia Group to add one additional unit to the 366-unit Triangle Square apartment and condo development, which was approved in 2018 at 1701 W. Webster Ave. in the 32nd Ward.
  • A planned development application by The Society for the Danish Old People’s Home to build two “lateral additions” to the existing three-story facility at 5656 N. Newcastle Ave. in the 41st Ward. The added “wings” would not increase the building’s maximum allowed number of beds but would provide for 13 additional parking spaces.