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Pilsen, Little Village, Back of the Yards

It’s Time To Stop Adding Tall Buildings To Parts Of West Loop, Neighbors Say In New Plan

Despite the neighbors' plan, West Loop aldermen said they will still consider new development on a case-by-case basis.

A view of construction in Fulton Market from Google's Midwest Headquarters in 2017.
Stephanie Lulay/ Block Club Chicago
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WEST LOOP — As part of an expansive neighborhood plan to shape the future of the booming West Loop, a community group is looking to curb the height of new buildings in parts of the neighborhood.

In the report released in August, Neighbors of the West Loop’s new neighborhood plan calls for the city to cap the height of new buildings to under 150 feet for much of the neighborhood that is west of Halsted Street.

Under the neighbors’ plan, buildings over 150 feet tall would be permitted east of Halsted, south of Van Buren — areas near the expressways — and a stretch of Fulton Market between Carroll Avenue and Kinzie Street.

In areas near Skinner Park, parts of Mary Bartelme Park and near the Green Line’s Clinton ‘L’ stop, the neighborhood group recommends new buildings be 80 feet tall or less. 

And in other parts of the West Loop — including on Randolph’s Restaurant Row — the group recommends new buildings be 120 or 150 feet or less, as signified in the map below. 

Credit: Neighbors of the West Loop
The Neighbors of the West Loop’s new neighborhood plan offers recommendations for new maximum building heights within the neighborhood.

In addition to guidelines on building heights, the Neighbors of West Loop plan offers new recommendations for neighborhood improvements, including capping the Kennedy Expy. to make way for a public park, adding a police station back into the West Loop after the old Racine station closed in 2012, and making the area safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.

RELATED: Old Police Station Becomes ‘Story of Redemption’ As New Children’s Theatre

Matt Letourneau, president of Neighbors of West Loop, said the recommendations were developed after a series of meetings with residents across the West Loop and conversations with West Loop aldermen, stakeholders and other city leaders. The neighbors’ plan also considered the city’s West Loop Design Guidelines revised in December 2017.

The neighborhood plan is consistent with the city’s Near West Side Area Land Use Plan and adds specificity and direction to the West Loop Design Guidelines, Letourneau said. 

“We are trying to meld all of that together and create a favorable future scenario,” Letourneau said. “This isn’t just tossing things out there. There is a basis for these recommendations.”

With nearly half of the map allowing for heights to scale 150 and over, the recommendations provide a balance of high-density developments while “preserving” residential areas with lower heights, Letourneau said.

“There is a clear connection between open air, being able to catch a glimpse of the sun and creating a high quality of life in one’s neighborhood,” Letourneau said. “This diagram aims to preserve some of those things that people in the West Loop have enjoyed for a long time, and we are losing it in some aspects.”

The neighbors’ recommended height guidelines outlined in the plan conflict with several proposed, recently-approved or under construction projects in the area.

For example, Related Midwest and Tucker Development are seeking approval for a 36-story building at 170 N. Peoria St. inside the historic Fulton Market district.  The project, opposed by Neighbors of the West Loop, was previously pitched as a more than 51-story skyscraper, scaling more than 500 feet — well above Neighbor of West Loop’s new height recommendations for the area.

Other projects, like MCZ Development’s recently-approved 20-story, 220-foot Fulton Market apartment tower at 166 N. Aberdeen St., and Crayton Advisors and White Oak Realty Partners’ 18-story apartment project at 855 W. Adam St., which broke ground this summer, would not meet the neighborhood groups’ height recommendations.

Letourneau said the neighborhood group plans to apply these guidelines when meeting with developers moving forward — and will publicly support or oppose a project based on these new guidelines. 

Aldermen: We Consider Development On ‘Case-By-Case’ Basis 

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), whose ward includes the West Loop, lauded Neighbors of West Loop for their hard work on the plan, but said that he considers proposed developments on a case-by-case basis and will continue to do so in the future. 

An outright cap on height could limit development and deter certain projects from coming into the neighborhood and bring needed economic resources to the West Loop and the city of Chicago, Burnett said

“It’s volatile to make any kind of decisions that are going to slow things down,” the veteran alderman said. 

Ald. Danny Solis (25th), who also represents part of the West Loop, said he is willing to consider the group’s recommendations as he considers the suggestions made by all community groups when evaluating proposed projects. The West Central Association and West Loop Community Organization also routinely weighs in on proposed new buildings in the area. 

“You can’t say a definite yes…that you would agree [about the height recommendations], Solis said. “Everything is negotiable.”

Department of Planning and Development spokesman Kevin Bargnes said residents can reference the neighborhood group’s guidelines in public meetings for new projects, but noted the official West Loop Design Guidelines were adopted by the Chicago Plan Commission in 2017 “to address a number of community concerns involving neighborhood character, the height and density of new buildings, design issues, and open space.”

“Every project that needs Plan Commission approval is reviewed according to the West Loop Design Guidelines and accompanying developer checklist,” Bargnes said. 

Parking Guidelines

As part of the group’s new recommendations, Neighbors of the West Loop are also asking for new residential developments to maintain parking space-to-unit ratios at .65 to 1 for apartment buildings and 1 to 1 for condos.

Feedback from residents determined the number, Letourneau said. He acknowledged the balancing act between resident requests and the decisions city leaders ultimately make. 

“We want there to [be] compromise…and we also want to be able to address the current and anticipated future [parking] needs of residents,” he said. 

While Burnett said he could work with residents on parking recommendations, Solis said the group’s proposed parking requirements were high.

“You create all this parking and [people] aren’t using them,” Solis said.

“I think we are moving away from that,” Solis added. “People are using more public transportation, Lyfts, Uber, etc… I don’t see the need for parking as much as…20 or 30 years ago. But I’m willing to listen and negotiate.”

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