CHICAGO — City Hall is going to look very different in a few short months as a new mayor and new aldermen take over. But as things stand, the sprawling Lincoln Yards development that will transform the riverfront for decades could be a done deal by then.
Ald. Patrick O’Connor (40th) and Ald. James Cappleman (46th), chairs of the city’s incredibly powerful finance and zoning committees slated to vote on the development, could both be out of a job in a few short weeks.
That’s why some opponents of the 55-acre development are calling on Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) to postpone the controversial project’s two final meetings — until after the runoff election.
Hopkins said in a Thursday statement that he’s open to the idea.
“Discussions to improve the Lincoln Yards development plan are ongoing,” he said. “If an agreement can be reached prior to the Zoning Committee meeting on March 7th, I will allow the matter of delaying these final meetings to be considered.”
Sterling Bay’s massive project was already approved by the city’s Plan Commission, and last week, the city’s Community Development Commission approved forking over $900 million in taxpayer funds for the Cortland/Chicago River Tax-Increment Financing (TIF) District.
These two March committee meetings are the final public meetings — the last chance for the project to see any sort of alteration or delay.
In light of Tuesday’s election results, the Wicker Park Committee wrote a letter to Hopkins’ office asking the alderman to hold off further voting until the city has a new mayor.
“Within weeks of a new mayor, this thing (could) end up becoming a done deal,” said Ed Tamminga, chair of Wicker Park’s preservation and development committee.
For Tamminga, the devil has always been in the details.
“Let’s slow this thing down and get a firm understanding of the master plan, which is, let’s say, long on velocity, short on detail,” he said. “The transportation study is on Hopkins’ website, but dig into that thing and you just get overwhelmed immediately.”
Steve Jensen, vice president of the Bucktown Community Organization board, said he hoped Hopkins would listen to his neighbors’ request.
Reatha Kay, vice president — and a recent president — of the Ranch Triangle Neighborhood Association, agreed.
She challenged Hopkins and Sterling Bay to answer this question: If Lincoln Yards is so wonderful, won’t the next mayor and city council love it, too?
“Why not wait? The voters spoke,” Kay said. “This gives the appearance of being basically very dismissive of any kind of review.”
Kay’s neighborhood lies within the triangle-shaped boundaries of Racine Avenue, Armitage Avenue, North Avenue, the Chicago River and Halsted Street (RANCH). The community directly faces the proposed project.
Both Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle called for the Lincoln Yards vote to be delayed until after the election, but it’s perfectly legal for the city council and Mayor Rahm Emanuel to usher the project through before then.
That means O’Connor and Cappleman can oversee the final Lincoln Yards votes at the upcoming committee meetings and then, on May 20, — depending on how the election goes — step down as alderman.
Voters in Cappleman and O’Connor’s wards — Uptown and Lincoln Square, respectively — may not necessarily have a defining stake in the Lincoln Yards game.
O’Connor did not respond to an interview request. Cappleman told a reporter on Wednesday he felt optimistic that Hopkins would present a plan with more affordable housing.
“I had some discussion with Hopkins recently, and I said ‘you gotta get more affordable housing on site,'” he said.
Marianne Lalonde, who will face Cappleman in the 46th Ward runoff election, said she was concerned with the lack of green space set aside with the project.
Like residents, she wanted to postpone Lincoln Yards talk until after the runoff.
“I don’t think TIF funds should be allocated unless they increase the number of affordable units substantially,” she said.
Currently, Sterling Bay plans to put only 300 of 1,200 required affordable housing 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.
Andre Vasquez (40th) is running to unseat O’Conner. He said any and all future conversations about Lincoln Yards should be postponed until after the run-off election.
“That would be true democracy,” he said. “The expedited process is a clear attempt to push it through before a new Mayor and Council can weigh in on it. Every Chicagoan should be concerned about that.”
As of now, Sterling Bay is prepared to keep the development on schedule.
“Lincoln Yards is a tremendous opportunity to transform formerly industrial land into a vibrant riverfront community that finally connects Bucktown and Wicker Park with Lincoln Park,” Sterling Bay spokesperson Sarah Hamilton said, “and we look forward to presenting our plans to the Zoning and Finance Committees.”
Reporters Jonathan Ballew and Alex Hernandez contributed to this report.