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Fulton Market Rush: Banned Until Now, Alderman Wants To Open Floodgates To Apartments And Condos

Ald. Walter Burnett has long said "no" to residential development. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, he's changing his mind. "These guys have been begging me for a long time."

Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) aims to lift a moratorium on residential development north of Lake Street in Fulton Market.
Stephanie Lulay/ DNAinfo; WCA
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FULTON MARKET — After years of being bombarded by developers who want to build apartments and condos in a red-hot part of Fulton Market, the area’s alderman is giving in.

Faced with a pandemic choking the economy, Ald. Walter Burnett. Jr (27th) announced plans to reverse a ban on residential development in part of Fulton Market bound by Halsted to the east, Lake Street to the south, Ogden to the west and Hubbard to the north.

It’s the first time condos and apartments will be allowed in the area since it has undergone a massive transformation from a meat packing district to a booming hub of offices, restaurants and retail.

“These guys have been begging me for a long time,” Burnett said of developers and zoning attorneys who have lobbied his office. “They’ve been sweating me.”

For years, the 27th ward alderman has outright opposed proposals from developers seeking to bring apartments and condos to the area. But with the coronavirus shutdown devastating the city’s economy, Burnett wants to lift the moratorium.

“With the economy going the way it’s going, we’re trying to help to keep the economy going in the city by opening the floodgates to Fulton Market residential development,” Burnett said.

In lifting the ban, Burnett will ask developers who want to build apartments and condos to dedicate 20 percent of the units on site for affordable housing.

Burnett said he expects the pandemic to have a sizable impact on development in the area. Plans for hotels could be scrapped. Companies like Google, which have workers “sitting right on top of each other,” may need to buy up more office space so their workers can practice social distancing, Burnett said.

Post-pandemic, the area will need more residents to sustain the area’s retail and restaurants, too, he said.

“Even more so with this coronavirus affecting our commerce and all of the development, things have slowed down everywhere. Having development going in Fulton Market” could be a shot in the arm to city’s economic recovery, he said.

Burnett hasn’t solidified his plan with the city’s Department of Planning and Development or influential West Loop neighborhood groups yet, but with the economy sinking, he believes they’ll be responsive.

He also doesn’t think Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s promise to curb aldermanic prerogative will get in the way of his plan to allow residential development in the area.

“I’m trying to do something for the city, which I think will interest the city,” Burnett said. “I think she knows that I work with the community … It’s not really my prerogative. I’ve been doing this with the community.”

“Fulton Market is a leading driver for development in the city and I want to help keep that hope alive,” he said.

Carla Agostinelli, executive director of the West Loop Community Organization, said she was excited about the news. It’s time to start developing the neighborhood to its full potential, she said. 

“We feel this will be extremely beneficial for all of the businesses that are in the Fulton Market district that need [people], not just in the evenings but on the weekends as well,” Agostinelli said.

This is an opportunity to build on existing development and learn from the mistakes that have been made along the way, she added.

So who might develop residential in Fulton Market?

“The usual suspects,” Burnett said. Heavy hitters, like Sterling Bay, Related Midwest, Thor Equities, Shapack Partners, Scott Goodman’s Farpoint Development, The John Buck Company, Trammel Crow and developer Fred Latsko have all knocked on his door, the veteran alderman said.

Just three years ago, Burnett was singing a different tune. Despite “greedy” developers “gang-rushing” him to develop, he wanted to press pause.

“I think to some extent, some developers are getting too greedy and I think we need to slow down,” he said.

RELATED: ‘Greedy’ Developers ‘Gang-Rushing’ To Build In Fulton Market, Alderman Says

Burnett said Thursday he was nervous about approving development in the area because “NIMBY” issues — residents who would oppose new development because it blocked views of impacted their quality of life — could’ve slowed the neighborhood’s growth.

In 2015, architect Patrick FitzGerald pitched plans to build a 10-story building at 922 W. Lake St. just west of the existing Lake Street Lofts rental building on the north end of Lake Street. Despite support from neighbors, Burnett ultimately didn’t approve the Lake Street project.

In 2005, developer Jerome Cedicci aimed to develop a 44-unit condominium building at 375 N. Morgan St. City Hall approval for the condo project in the West Loop manufacturing district, where residential construction was supposed to be prohibited, led to scrutiny and several top officials in the city’s Building Department quit during an investigation of the matter.

Burnett said he has been long been considering a residential plan for the area. But he was waiting “until it felt right.”

As Fulton Market has developed, “I think it’s ready to balance out now…[to] help the restaurants and stuff survive,” Burnett said. Without residents to prop up businesses, “I think we’re going to fail.”

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