CITY HALL — A split City Council voted 33-14 to approve a $6 billion project that promises to transform 55 acres along the North Branch of the Chicago River into a new neighborhood.
Supporters hope it will signal the final transformation of Chicago from an industrial behemoth to a city poised for growth in the 21st Century, while critics contend the project offers only “crumbs” to the rest of the city.”
Sterling Bay’s $6 billion Lincoln Yards development calls for 6,000 new homes along with shops, offices and parks to be built between Bucktown and Lincoln Park. It overcame stiff opposition not only from some aldermen, but also from groups that said it would wipe out small entertainment venues like the Hideout while barely putting a dent in Chicago’s affordable housing shortfall or reducing the city’s economic or racial segregation.
Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) mocked the project’s 600-foot tall towers and suburban-style shopping centers as “Schaumburg Yards.”
“This is the rich getting richer,” Osterman said. “The North Side getting north-er.”
Osterman said the next time someone asks him why the North Side is so much more affluent than the South Side, he will point to this vote as the driving force behind the disparity.
“It happens on days like today, with votes like this,” Osterman said. “This is the tale of two cities.”
Osterman’s remarks brought a pointed response from Ald. Jason Ervin, whose 28th Ward is on the West Side.
“It must be nice to sit on Sheridan Road and Northwest Highway and have philosophical conversations about the city,” said Ervin, who said the residents of his ward will be proud to fill the 10,000 construction jobs and the 24,000 permanent jobs city officials project within the next 10 years.
“If this development can help other parts of the city, then let’s help,” Ervin said.
Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) said the unemployed workers in his ward could not afford to wait for more deliberations to take place.
“It must be nice to look from a point of privilege and say ‘we can wait, don’t rush’ … it is all piles of BS,” Lopez said.
In addition to Osterman, the development’s neighboring aldermen – Michele Smith (43rd) and Scott Waguespack (32nd) voted no, as did Ald. Sophia King (4th); Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th); Ald. Susan Sadlowski-Garza (10th), Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th), Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th); Ald. Milly Santiago (31st); Ald. Deb Mell (33rd); Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th); Ald. John Arena (45th); Ald. James Cappleman (46th) and Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th).
Ald. Ed Burke (14) — who represented Sterling Bay as a private property tax attorney until being charged with attempted extortion — abstained.
Hairston, Reboyras, Santiago, Mell, Cappleman and Smith face runoffs on April 2 to keep their seats on the City Council. Pawar faces a runoff in his race for treasurer.
Even though Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st) and Ald. George Cardenas (12th) told The Daily Line before the Feb. 26 election they would vote no on the project, all voted yes.
Tunney and Cardenas were re-elected, while Moreno lost his seat.
Another key vote looms by the City Council’s Finance Committee next month — a $900 million subsidy for the project, set to be generated by the 168-acre Cortland and Chicago River Redevelopment tax increment financing district.
Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) — whose ward includes the project — called Lincoln Yards “a visionary proposal.”
“We have to stay focused on progress,” Hopkins said.
The proposal was changed at the 11th hour to reduce the size of the mixed-use development to 14.5 million square feet and cap the height of the towers at 600 feet. In addition, the revised plan requires 600 units of affordable housing to be built on site. Originally, the plan called for only 300 units to be built on site, a plan criticized by several alderman as insufficient.
Pawar and Hairston said there should be more affordable housing.
“We have to stop begging for crumbs,” Hairston said.
Under aldermanic prerogative — the city’s unwritten policy of giving aldermen the ultimate authority over projects in their own wards — the project only needs the support of the mayor and Hopkins, who has said the new roads, bridges and sidewalks set to be built as part of the Lincoln Yards development are urgently needed.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Lincoln Yards is critical to ensure Chicago’s economy remains robust as the city transitions from its industrial past into the future.
“This is going to unlock tremendous opportunity,” said Emanuel, who warned aldermen that the alternative to growing Chicago’s tax base is voting to raise taxes — again.
“You use the ability to grow in the city, and the jobs, to become a way to find the resources to address all the issues that, individually, members have asked for to be spoken to,” Emanuel said. “Otherwise, you can just either cut police, fire, garbage services, or you can just tax folks.”
Both Toni Preckwinkle and Lori Lightfoot called to no avail for the vote to be delayed — and whomever wins on April 2 will find her hands tied by Wednesday’s unusually divided vote of the City Council.