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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

Plan Commission Approves Report On Woodlawn’s Future Near Obama Site — But City Says ‘This Is Not A Plan’

The report is meant to serve as a framework for preserving affordable housing, not be "the final say." The specifics must be hashed out in an ordinance.

City officials chatted with residents about plans for preserving affordable housing in Woodlawn at an open house Jan 30.
Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
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WOODLAWN — The Chicago Plan Commission overwhelmingly approved a report consolidating 15 years of plans for the future of Woodlawn at a virtual meeting Thursday.

The Woodlawn Plan Consolidation Report, released in January, combines the findings of 12 community-driven studies conducted since 2005. Those studies include:

Among its numerous ideas, the report recommends passing the city’s proposed affordable housing ordinance, building up density along the 63rd Street corridor and re-establishing the 63rd Street and Cottage Grove Avenue intersection as a “neighborhood center.”

The report also recommends selling most of the 51 acres of vacant land the city owns in Woodlawn to be used for housing, mixed-use development and open space.

The report is a “guiding document” based on years of input, not the city’s final say on what’s important to Woodlawn residents, said Nolan Zaroff of the Department of Planning and Development.

Nearly all commissioners in attendance voted to approve the report, sending it on to be voted on at City Council before it is adopted. Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) passed on the vote and Commissioner Andre Brumfield recused himself.

The South Shore Corridor Study, also approved by the commission Thursday, is an example of a comprehensive, actionable plan, chair Teresa Cordova said.

The Woodlawn report, by contrast, “is not a plan; this is a report on previous plans,” Cordova said. “This is indeed the beginning, and is intended to spur further action.”

Cordova praised the “improvements” made to the report since the commission’s Feb. 21 meeting, such as the inclusion of the WECAN study and expanded housing policy goals.

Earlier in the week, Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) said she would oppose the report until the Woodlawn affordable housing ordinance is expanded and passed.

At a meeting Tuesday, held in response to Taylor’s objections to the report’s approval process, she called for additional community input before the commission voted, according to the Hyde Park Herald.

“Right now the mayor’s plan only creates about 40 truly affordable units,” Taylor said in a statement Wednesday. “That’s unacceptable when nearly 10,000 people are at risk of being pushed out of the community. We can and we must do better.”

Those who pushed the commission to vote against the report mostly aligned with Taylor in their desire to see an expanded affordable housing ordinance passed first.

Many had ties to the Obama CBA Coalition, whose community benefits agreement for properties within two miles of the planned Obama Center has stalled in City Council since its introduction last July.

There is no set date for the city’s ordinance to be introduced to City Council, Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara said Thursday.

Planning Commissioner Maurice Cox — known for his quick and “bold” actions in his prior job as Detroit’s planning director — said Chicago owes it to Woodlawn not to suffer from “paralysis” on this issue.

Long-term planning is “made up of little actions,” Cox said. The report is the first step, followed by a housing ordinance which would then become the law — “this report doesn’t become law.”

The city needs to take that first step, Cox said, especially with a determination in the National Environmental Policy Act review of Obama Presidential Center plans scheduled for this summer.

The federal government needs to see that “we have a direction forward,” and the consolidated report would signify that, he said.

Members of the public who supported the commission’s approval of the report largely aligned with Cox in their desire for quick action.

“The future is coming,” Cox said. “It’s barreling forward and it’s going to eat us for lunch if we don’t take some action.”

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