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920 New Fulton Market Apartments OK’d Despite Affordability Concerns: ‘I Think The Developer Can Do Better’

The proposals include the 49-story Equinox tower planned for 725 W. Randolph St. and a 33-story tower at 1150 W. Lake St., which will now move on to the Committee on Zoning.

Renderings of the developments planned for 725 W. Randolph St. left, and 1150 W. Lake St., right.
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DOWNTOWN — City officials approved two high-rise apartment developments that would build 920 apartments in Fulton Market despite criticism that few apartments would be set aside for low- and moderate-income Chicagoans.

Members of the Chicago Plan Commission on Friday approved the third iteration of a plan (O2019-7972) by Related Midwest to build a mixed-use apartment and Equinox-branded hotel complex at 725 W. Randolph Ave. The proposal called for a 49-story tower with 370 apartments and 240 hotel rooms, plus an adjacent 15-story office building. 

Both towers would sprout from a shared four-story podium with parking and retail, including a gym facility. 

The City Council in 2014 approved a previous version of the proposal, which then called for a 220-unit development, and aldermen passed an updated plan (SO2017-7018) in 2018 to include more apartments. The latest proposal reduces the apartment tower’s planned height by 10 stories and expands the project’s footprint to add the office complex. 

The $550 million development would rise inside the city’s Near North Affordable Requirements Ordinance pilot zone, meaning that 20 percent of planned units must be rented at affordable rates. However, because the original plan was approved before the most recent version of the Affordable Requirements Ordinance kicked in, those rules only apply to the 150 added units, setting a minimum requirement of 30 affordable units. 

Related plans to rent 15 units below market rate on the site and provide for another 25 affordable units off-site, “above and beyond” the minimum, an attorney representing the developer said. The off-site location has not yet been determined. 

The original proposal also triggered a $541,650 payment into city affordable housing programs, as required under the 2007 version of the Affordable Requirements Ordinance. 

Dozens of hotel and retail workers in the Unite Here Local 1 union crowded into the meeting on Friday to urge Related to include 74 affordable units in the proposal, which would be the minimum required under city rules if the same plan were presented from scratch. 

Tamekah Shivers, a union member who works as a Starbucks barista at O’Hare Airport, told members of the commission that she thinks “the developer can do better.” 

“When a developer makes very few units in a new building affordable, the message I hear is that they don’t want people like me living there,” Shivers said. “What we need is more affordable housing options for everyone in all neighborhoods, regardless of background or economic status. Everyone should be treated with respect and dignity, regardless of how much you pay your rent.” 

City housing Comm. Marisa Novara acknowledged the union’s opposition but urged approval of the proposal anyway, telling commissioners that the opportunity to add more affordable units is “not what’s in front of us.” 

The affordable unit count is lower “not because the developer is exploiting loopholes — it’s what they were allowed to do at the time it was approved,” Novara said. “We cannot retroactively erase the approval this developer received for what was legal at the time.” 

Planning Comm. Maurice Cox also voted to approve the plan after he noted that the development would generate a $5.62 million payment to the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund — enough to fund grants for dozens of minority-owned businesses, he said. 

RELATED: Plan Commission Set To Approve 900 New Apartments In Fulton Market

Related Midwest has also proposed to build a “pedestrian gateway” along Randolph Street and a “pocket park” along Halsted Street. 

Commissioners lavished praise on a separate Fulton Market apartment proposal (O2019-7970), a plan by LG Development to build a 33-story apartment tower and an 11-story office building at 1150 W. Lake St. in the 27th Ward, with ground-floor retail space included in both buildings. 

The residential building would include 550 units — an increase over a previous plan presented to neighbors last summer, which called for up to 484 new apartments.  

LG would satisfy the Affordable Requirements Ordinance by holding 55 units affordable to renters who earn up to 60 percent of Area Median Income, and another 55 for those earning up to 100 percent of median income. All the affordable units would be located on the site of the proposal, a decision commission member Guacolda Reyes lauded as a “model” for other builders. 

“I will not forget the name of [this] developer, as many others come here and tell us that this is not feasible,” said Reyes, who is vice president of real estate development for the nonprofit Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation. “Now we can say that it’s feasible.” 

The development is slated to cost $315 million to build. It would trigger the city’s density bonus program, drawing a $6.1 million contribution into the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund. 

Novara said LG is among a “handful” of developers that has consistently met the affordability benchmarks set by housing officials, undercutting other builders who say the Pilot Zone requirements make development impossible to finance. She added that the 20-member task force convened by the housing department to overhaul the Affordable Requirements Ordinance would talk to LG’s executives about “how you’ve done that, and what we can learn from it.” 

RELATED: Housing Department unveils new data as task force starts to ‘reevaluate’ Affordable Requirements Ordinance 

The development would be bisected by interior alleys giving residents and neighbors a “unique pedestrian experience” with shops, cafes and benches, according to an attorney representing the developer.