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Lincoln Park, Old Town

Lincoln Yards Plan Unanimously Approved By Key City Commission Over Public Outcry

"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."

Ald. Brian Hopkins at Thursday's Plan Commission meeting.
Jonathan Ballew / Block Club Chicago
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THE LOOP — After hours of testimony from neighbors, business owners and other aldermen urging them to slow down the approval process for the massive Lincoln Yards development, the Plan Commission unanimously approved it at a Thursday hearing.

Developer Sterling Bay released its new, 100-page “master plan”  for 55-acre riverfront development on Saturday, which was enough to appease Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), but the quick transition from plan to vote irked neighbors who showed up by the dozens to City Hall Thursday.

Credit: Jonathan Ballew / Block Club Chicago
Those opposed to TIF funding for the Lincoln Yards development held a press conference before the Plan Commission vote.

Members of neighborhood groups including the RANCH Triangle neighborhood association, Raise Your Hand, Friends of The Parks and others lined up to speak, with many asking why the process was so rushed.

“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.”

However, the $6 billion development had the support of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Hopkins. Under aldermanic prerogative — the city’s unwritten policy of giving aldermen the ultimate authority over projects in their own wards — that’s all it needed.

Hopkins was greeted by a chorus of boos when he spoke at the Thursday hearing. His voice rising in anger, Hopkins blamed those in attendance for not getting involved in the Lincoln Yards planning process sooner.

RELATED: Hundreds Pack City Hall, Calling ‘Rushed’ Lincoln Yards Vote The New ‘Parking Meter Deal’

“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.

Credit: Sterling Bay
An updated Sterling Bay master plan.

Traffic, which was a major concern during community meetings on the plan over the summer, would improve with the development, he said.

A traffic impact study had not been released ahead of the Thursday meeting, but the city’s Department of Transportation said it was added to Ald. Hopkins’ website Thursday afternoon [PDF].

Credit: Jonathan Ballew / Block Club Chicago
Those who oppose and support the Lincoln Yards plan packed City Hall Thursday.

Ald. Smith said the traffic improvements would only happen if the city signs off on a $900 million TIF for the development. That vote could happen as soon as Feb. 5 or Feb. 19, but it’s not currently on the agenda.

Aside from the unanswered traffic questions and concerns about the rushed vote, Smith 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:

Affordable Housing & Phase I

In documents released during the 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.

Though the proposal must still pass the full City Council and get $900 million in public TIF money in order to become a reality, the city’s Dept. of Planning and Development celebrated the vote as a win on Twitter, announcing that it would create “34,000 jobs, 21 acres of park space, $121 million in bonus payments and corridor fees, and a 20 percent affordable obligation for 6,000 units planned for the site.”

If approved, the first buildings to go up will be 1.32 million square feet of offices, 108,000 square feet of retail and 1,400 parking spaces, the Dept. of Planning said.

Credit: Sterling Bay
Lincoln Yards office towers are part of the development’s first phase.

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.

Sterling Bay made changes to its plans for Lincoln Yards earlier this month after opposition to its proposed LiveNation-run music venues and a 20,000-seat soccer stadium. Critics had worried the venues would negatively impact traffic and hurt independent music venues.

On Thursday, several venue owners spoke to the Plan Commission, saying that the stadium might be gone, but there are still a variety of “smaller” venues in the plan – including one that holds up to 10,000 people.

Tim Tuten, owner of The Hideout, 1354 W Wabansia, said the plans would put a 60-story building, a 32-story building and a six-story parking tower across the street from his historic bar.

Credit: Sterling Bay
A rendering of the latest version of the Sterling Bay Lincoln Yards plan.

Though most of the neighbors who showed up Thursday were opposed to Lincoln Yards, or asking that the process slow down, labor groups came out in favor of the project.

“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.”

Check out the plan:

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