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Key City Panel OKs ‘Audacious’ Plan That Imagines A Mixed-Income Fulton Market

The updated Fulton Market Innovation District would, among other details, open the area north of Lake Street for residential development. City officials said more TIF funding will be needed to support the plan.

Fulton Market sign
West Central Association
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FULTON MARKET — In order to support the development, transportation and affordable housing goals of a mixed-use, mixed-income Fulton Market neighborhood, city leaders are considering extending a special tax district used to help build the booming neighborhood over the last three decades.

The Chicago Plan Commission unanimously approved an update to the Fulton Market Innovation District plan during a meeting Thursday. First approved in 2014, the plan guides development and infrastructure priorities for the neighborhood.

Maurice Cox, commissioner of the city’s planning department, said the plan should be approved, in part, because Mayor Lori Lightfoot is considering extending the life of the Kinzie Industrial Tax Increment Financing district — which overlaps much of the neighborhood.

The Fulton Market plan needed an update because of the population growth of the area, officials said. Citywide population grew less than 1 percent between 2010 and 2018. But in Fulton Market, the population boomed by 14 percent.

Once home to a thriving meatpacking industry, since 2014, there have been 43 Planned Developments approved representing 8.1 million square feet of office space, 1,702 hotel rooms and 3,801 resident units, according to the planning department.

The plan will promote mixed-use and mixed-income development, and allow for residential development north of Lake Street, an issue local Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) threw his support behind last year.

The plan sets a goal of 30 percent affordable housing units in developments north of Lake, a 10 percent bump to the mandate currently in place.

It would also improve Metra crossings, install missing sidewalks, crosswalks and address ADA compliance concerns, replace light poles and add Divvy bicycle stations in the short term. Long-term goals would bury utility lines in the area, see new bike lanes built and improve viaducts.

Cox said it’s an “audacious” plan to strive for a mixed income neighborhood so close to downtown.

 “They are very hard to find, where you get all of the amenities of the proximity of being downtown, but you can also have a range of incomes,” he said.

But to pay for infrastructure improvements, green space and support the plan’s affordable housing targets, the city would need to “be willing” to commit public dollars.

“I think it should be remembered, whether it’s housing or open space, that this is an area that has a very rich TIF that is set to expire and part of the mayor’s deliberation on ways to extend it have to do with a higher bar, and it can not simply go to things that don’t support equity,” Cox said.

“You’re going to need TIF dollars in order to do that,” he said. “That’s partly what’s driving the fact that we need to make a commitment to this, and if we aren’t ready to say this is going to be a mixed-use and mixed-income, then we may not have the TIF to work with.”

The most recent public report filed for the TIF district — first approved in 1998 and set to expire in 2022 — shows it generated $41 million in tax dollars in 2019 for a cumulative $361 million over the life of the TIF and had an ending balance of $124 million in 2019.

TIF districts freeze the value of properties within set boundaries, and capture the incremental tax derived from the difference in the rising value above the frozen value over a set period of time, usually 23 years.

Those funds are meant to be spent on infrastructure and other projects within the district’s boundaries, but TIF districts have been criticized for acting as a slush fund for city leaders at the expense of the city’s overall tax base.

Lightfoot campaigned to bring transparency to TIF districts. Last February, she announced reforms of the program, including increasing the reporting requirements before funds can be allocated.

Cynthia Roubik, assistant commissioner of the planning department agreed with Cox, saying “we’re evaluating whether or not we can extend the Kinzie TIF to continue this momentum that’s been created and to also look towards helping us with our affordability goals and our open space goals.”

Burnett, who was first elected to City Council in 1995 and has overseen the transformation of the neighborhood, said the “time is right” to allow residential development north of Lake, but expressed doubt the city should vote on the updated plans Thursday.

“We’re still working on this, it’s still evolving,” he said

Roubik said voting on the reworked plan would not end the process. City Council-approved zoning changes would still be required to allow residential buildings north of Lake Street and to accommodate the affordable housing goals.

“We recognize the plan doesn’t solve all of the problems; no plan can,” she said. 

“We’re just saying ‘we want mixed-use, we want mixed-income, we want more open space, we want infrastructure improvements,’ these are all the things we know we can all agree that we need so that we can work to implement them together,” she said.

Burnett didn’t object and voted yes along with the entire Plan Commission.

Other items

The Commission also approved a new Belmont Cragin Elementary School at the southeast corner of Riis Park, 6100 W. Fullerton Ave., on land owned by the Park District. The new school will be able to accommodate between 552 to 828 students.

Friends of the Parks, a community group focused on preserving land in the Park District, filed a letter with the Plan Commission opposed to the new school being built within Riis Park, but the letter says the group will not file legal action against the Park District or Chicago Public Schools to block it. 

“Though our opinion on that issue has not changed, we have chosen to engage the Belmont Cragin school advocates in a partnership relationship to pursue the creation of 3.3 acres of replacement park land for the community somewhere very close by in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood,” the letter states.

“We need to move forward on this, our kids need better schools, they need more space,” local Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th) said ahead of the vote.

A six-story, 59-unit residential building with 59 parking spaces is proposed in Edgewater, 5950 N. Sheridan Road, on an empty lot in the 48th ward was also approved.

At the request of the developer, the Commission delayed a vote on two 23-story and 36-story connected towers that would be built at 525 S. Wabash Ave. in the 42nd Ward under a Planned Development application submitted by Eterra Plus llc. The towers would bring 777 residential units, 314 hotel rooms and 42,000 square feet of commercial space to the area.

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