THE LOOP — More than 100 people lined up to weigh in on the Lincoln Yards development at a Plan Commission hearing on Thursday, with most – including at least two aldermen whose wards border the project – calling for more time for public input.
It’s been less than a week since Sterling Bay released its new, 100-page version of a plan for the development, and there have been no public meetings to get feedback on the plan in that time. Some details of the development still have not been made public.
Hundreds of those opposed and several dozen people in favor of the development packed City Hall on Thursday morning.
“This is the biggest development the city will approve in decades and we just got the plan last weekend,” Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) said in a statement. “The last time a government body in this room was asked to make [a] similar momentous decision in so little time was – the parking meter deal.”
Smith, whose ward borders the development, has previously called for the process to be slowed down. But Ald. Brian Hopkins, whose 2nd Ward is where the 55-acre development lies, has insisted on moving forward.
Hopkins was greeted by a chorus of boos when he spoke at the Thursday hearing. He blamed those in attendance for not getting involved in the Lincoln Yards planning process sooner – despite the fact that the updated plans were released mere days ago.
“If you came to the community review process last Saturday, welcome to the party, I’m sorry you are late,” Hopkins said, adding that he is willing to put his entire reputation on the line for this project and doesn’t care about the political backlash. “Frankly, I would still like some more time myself in many ways.”
Hopkins said he was elected in 2015 on a promise to revitalize the North Branch area along the river, and said Lincoln Yards will be “spectacular.” He said the plan reflected the community’s desire to extend the 606 trail over the river, build at least one new bridge over the river, modernize traffic signals and add park space.
Traffic, which was a major concern during community meetings on the plan over the summer, would improve with the development, he said.
Ald. Smith said the traffic improvements would only happen if the city signs off on a $900 million TIF for the development.
In the final master plan released six days ago, the project was suddenly 25 percent more dense, Smith pointed out. She cautioned against voting for something of this magnitude without scrutiny, and given the current political scandals surrounding the Finance and Zoning committees.
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) said businesses in his ward could be forced to close to build new bridges and roads, pointing out that Lincoln Yards does not just impact the 2nd ward.
Ald. Carlos Ramiez-Rosa (35th) echoed that sentiment:
New Details Released
In documents released during the Thursday Plan Commission meeting, Sterling Bay addressed its plans for required affordable housing at the development.
According to these documents, of the 6,000 residential units proposed, they’ll be required to make 1,200 affordable. The developer said they would put 300 units on site. They’ll pay at least $39 million to the city’s low-income housing fund to avoid adding 300 of the required units, the document says.
The other 600 units will be located either on-site, “off-site” within 3 miles of the development or they’ll pay an additional fee to avoid building them, according to the developer.
Crain’s reports Sterling Bay will present a 100-page document to the Plan Commission with “more granular” details about its proposal that are not in the online “master plan” released Saturday. A traffic impact study has also not been shared with the public or community groups.
Once the commission approves the plan it will go before the City Council for a vote. Typically in Chicago, what the local alderman says goes.
Hopkins said over the weekend that the plan had earned his support and he was hosting smaller meetings with organizations to look at the development.
He has not returned multiple calls to answer Block Club’s questions about the development.
Editorials in the Chicago Sun-Times, The Chicago Tribune, Crain’s Chicago Business called on Ald. Hopkins to slow down the approval process – along with multiple community groups – but Hopkins has vowed to move forward anyway.
Sterling Bay made changes to its plans for Lincoln Yards last week after widespread outcry against its proposal of including LiveNation-run music venues and a 20,000-seat soccer stadium. Critics had worried the venues would impact traffic and hurt independent music venues.
But the changes didn’t appease everyone, with most groups just asking for more time to weigh in: The Chicago Independent Venue League, an alliance of groups and businesses critical of the development, has asked its members to attend Thursday’s meeting and speak out against the rush to vote on Lincoln Yards and its TIF. And more than 3,000 people signed a petition to ask the city to delay its vote on the project, according to CIVL.
“In light of the emerging extortion scandal involving longtime Chicago Ald. Ed Burke, community groups are demanding that the project is delayed until a newly elected city council and the mayor can take the time needed to vet the mega-proposal — through full public scrutiny, deliberation and debate,” the Grassroots Collaborative, a group of opponents of the development’s TIF, said in a news release.
Other organizations have come out in support of Lincoln Yards, with labor groups saying in a Thursday morning news release the project will create jobs and change the area.
“Lincoln Yards is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform a nearly 55-acre former industrial site into a vibrant riverfront community,” Edward McKinnie, president of Black Contractors United, said in the news release. “With a commitment to diversity and inclusion in workforce and business participation, Lincoln Yards promises to create 24,000+ permanent jobs and 10,000+ construction jobs.”
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