DOWNTOWN — Defying intense criticism from several aldermen and calls for delay from parks advocates and good government stalwarts, the city’s Community Development Commission unanimously endorsed plans Tuesday for a $900 million subsidy for Lincoln Yards, which is set to reshape the North Branch of the Chicago River.
The commission’s 10-0 vote sends the plans for the new 168-acre Cortland and Chicago River Redevelopment Area to the City Council’s Finance Committee for consideration, perhaps as soon as next month.
The commission, whose members are all appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, also approved the Department of Planning and Development recommendation that Sterling Bay be allowed to develop the property.
The City Council has not yet given the developer approval to rezone the property, much of which was once part of the now-defunct Finkl Steel plant. That approval could also come next month.
Eleven aldermen have vowed to vote against the project because it fails to combat Chicago’s affordable housing shortfall or reduce the economic or racial segregation plaguing the city. Twenty-six aldermen could kill the project.
Before the meeting, a coalition of community groups and civic leaders said the process should be halted until after the next mayor and City Council take office in May — a position endorsed by mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle.
That coalition includes local entertainment venue owners that have mobilized to block the project, which they fear will unleash a wave of displacement and gentrification that will wipe them out.
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) said the project should be put on hold because it would do nothing to reduce economic or racial segregation in the city.
“This will exacerbate the tale of two cities we are faced with,” Waguespack said.
Ald. John Arena (45th) called the creation of the new TIF nothing more than a “shell game.”
TIF districts capture all growth in the property tax base in a designated area for a set period of time, usually 20 years or more, and divert it into a special fund for projects designed to spur redevelopment and eradicate blight.
Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) called that a “rip-off for all taxpayers.”
Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) said the new TIF should be halted until Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi can determine whether all 300 properties set to be included in the district have been properly assessed.
“This is not an academic exercise,” Smith said. “The largest TIF district ever created in Chicago deserves real scrutiny.”
The TIF district is set to include the city’s former maintenance yard, which was assessed as worth nothing, since it was owned by the city. That means all property tax generated by that land will be scooped up by the TIF.
The current plan is “insulting,” Smith said.
Dozens of speakers echoed Smith, and called on commissioners to slow down the process.
But Ald. Brian Hopkins, whose 2nd Ward includes the proposed development, said the new roads, bridges and sidewalks set to be built as part of the Lincoln Yards development are urgently needed.
“We can’t wait any longer,” Hopkins said. “We need to act now.”
Members of unions and firms that stand to get a slice of the 55-acre project — expected to bring 10,000 construction jobs and 24,000 permanent jobs — urged commissioners to go full speed ahead. Under the city’s rules, $1.9 billion of the project’s cost will be set side for firms owned by blacks, Latinos and women.
Zoning Committee Chairman Ald. James Cappleman (46th) has said he would insist developer Sterling Bay commit to building affordable units earmarked for the city’s poorest residents in the 2nd Ward — but not as part of the development itself — before allowing the project to advance to the full City Council.
However, the development has the support of Emanuel as well as Hopkins. Under aldermanic prerogative — the city’s unwritten policy of giving aldermen the ultimate authority over projects in their own wards — that’s all a development typically needs to be approved by the City Council.
Once completed in 10 years, the development is set to include 6,000 new units.
Because the project is set to get $900 million from the new TIF district, 1,200 of those units must be set aside for low- and moderate-income Chicagoans.
Sterling Bay plans to include only 300 of those units as part of the development itself, the minimum required by the city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance.
The developer also plans to pay $39 million into the city’s Low-Income Housing Trust Fund in lieu of building another 300 units.
The remaining 600 units would be allowed to be built outside the development, but within three miles, according to the original plan. Sterling Bay would also have the option of paying into the trust fund instead of building some of those remaining units, or including them as part of Lincoln Yards.
The $900 million in TIF funds will be used to reimburse Sterling Bay for new bridges over the Chicago River, a new Metra station, an extension of the 606 trail, water taxis, dedicated bicycle lanes as well as potentially a light-rail transit way and extending the city’s street grid to the city’s specifications
Efforts are already underway to unsnarl the intersection of Armitage, Ashland and Elston avenues, officials said.