UPTOWN — A controversial plan to turn a parking lot at Weiss Hospital into apartments is getting a second chance after the local alderman’s zoning advisory committee changed its “no” vote on the project.
Lincoln Property Company’s proposal to build a 12-story apartment building on the Weiss parking lot at 4600 N. Marine Drive was rejected by Ald. James Cappleman’s (46th) zoning and development advisory committee earlier this month in a razor-thin vote. But now Cappleman will determine the project’s fate after a member of his zoning committee flip flopped on a deciding vote.
Last week, officials with the Northalsted Business Alliance said its acting executive director, Lake Alen, went rogue and voted “no” on the Weiss project against the chamber group’s wishes.
At a subsequent meeting of Cappleman’s zoning and development board, Mark Liberson, Northalsted Business Alliance board vice president, said the group wished to change its vote on the Weiss development from “no” to “yes.”
“Unfortunately, our representative last week … ended up acting in a matter that we didn’t anticipate and didn’t advocate the position that we were taking as a board,” Liberson said at the meeting. “He ended up engaging in a manner that was representing opinions that he had that didn’t represent the posture of our organization. The organization’s position was in support of the project.”
With Northalsted reversing its vote, the advisory board’s vote on the project changes from 16-15 against the project to 16-15 in favor.
Because the vote change is unprecedented for the zoning board — and because the vote is so close — Cappleman said he will make a final determination on the project.
“It’s all very, very, very close,” Cappleman said at Thursday’s meeting of his advisory committee. “I’m going to have to think more about my decision.”
The vote reversal breathes new life into a controversial proposal that has been the subject of two protests in Uptown. It has also caused anger among the advisory zoning board members as to how the process has unfolded.
Lincoln Property Company is under contract to buy the Weiss parking lot, where it is proposing to build a courtyard-style apartment building.
The building would include 136 parking spaces, a bike room and a rooftop deck. Plans call for eight affordable units with Lincoln planning to satisfy its remaining affordability requirement with a $3.1 million payment to Sarah’s Circle for a housing facility in Uptown.
Selling the parking lot to a developer would make better use of a lakefront property and inject cash into Weiss, a community hospital, supporters have said. Opponents say the development could further gentrification in Uptown and say they are untrusting of Weiss’s new ownership group, which has been criticized for buying and promptly closing a suburban hospital.
A contentious first meeting of Cappleman’s development committee on the project ended in members delaying the vote, saying neighbors needed more time to review the developer’s plans. On June 10, the committee reconvened and voted 16-15 against the project.
Representing the Northalsted Business Alliance at the meeting, acting executive director and treasurer Alen said the chamber’s original intention was to abstain from the vote because the project was not in Northalsted’s vicinity.
But after the first meeting on the topic, the chamber group decided to vote “in solidarity” with the Lakeside Area Neighbors Association, known as LANA, after the neighborhood group said the developer was skirting neighbors and charging ahead with a city review of the project.
“I want to ask my fellow committee members and organizations that if your organization was in a similar situation where it felt sidelined by the developer, as LANA has, that you would want this body to protect your interest,” Alen said.
After hearing of Alen’s “no” vote, Liberson said the Northalsted board held an emergency meeting and drafted a letter requesting its vote be changed.
The vote was allowed to be changed. Tressa Feher, Cappleman’s chief of staff, said members of the advisory committee create the board’s procedures, and no formal procedure outlawing a vote change has been adopted.
Some neighbors and committee members are not happy with the process.
Scott Adams, a member of Cappleman’s advisory committee, said he supports the inclusive nature of the local zoning process — but allowing for a vote change negates the hard work of the committee.
“When you ask for a do-over, it corrupts the integrity of the process,” Adams said. “Every ward has a different process. This one has strengths and weaknesses, and this is one of the weaknesses.”
Cappleman’s zoning advisory board was always meant to gauge the level of community support for a development project, Feher said. Because the unprecedented vote change happened, Cappleman will instead make a final ruling rather than follow the letter of the changed vote, Feher said.
“The goal of the committee is to help the alderman make the community better by supporting, changing or rejecting proposals brought to the alderman so he can make a decision,” Feher said in a statement. “Not only has the alderman been clear from the beginning in 2011 that he may go against the decision of the committee, he has always made it clear that this is an advisory group only and that he is charged with making the final decision to support or reject a particular proposal.”
The Weiss development was placed on Tuesday’s Zoning Committee agenda, where projects are considered before moving onto a final City Council vote. But the item will be deferred from the zoning agenda because it has not yet gone in front of the Plan Commission, said Bennett Lawson, chief of staff for Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), who chairs the Zoning Committee.
Cappleman said he will continue taking feedback on the Weiss project before announcing a final decision.
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