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Plan To Build 300 Apartments Near O’Hare Could Be Dead After Local Aldermen Objects, Saying He Wants Businesses There Instead

The vote is a reminder of the influence aldermen maintain over development in their wards.

Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) at a City Council meeting in February 2020.
Colin Boyle/ Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — A proposal to build nearly 300 apartments near O’Hare Airport stalled again Tuesday, possibly killing the project.

Dismissing concerns the action could lead to a lawsuit, aldermen on the Committee on Zoning voted 11-2 to delay considering a zoning request that would allow developer Glenstar to build the 297-apartment project in the 41st Ward.

It’s not the first time the committee has sided with Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) to block the project. In 2017, after the city’s Plan Commission greenlit the plans over Napolitano’s objection, the Zoning Committee didn’t take up the zoning request. Glenstar filed a lawsuit against the city but eventually dropped it, saying at the time it would instead pursue a commercial development at the site at 8535 W. Higgins Road.

“We didn’t support it then; we don’t support it now,” Napolitano told his colleagues ahead of the vote. “I think what we should be pushing for [it to] remain commercial, bring more jobs to our city and not set a precedent in our business corridor over there in turning it all into residential.”

Committee members were undeterred by pleas from Zoning Committee chairman Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) and Jeff Levine, of the city’s Law Department. They said since the project is a planned development, it was not ready for committee consideration until it went before the city’s Plan Commission again.

“I would recommend that the committee adhere to its usual practice that is provided for in the municipal code, which calls for Plan Commission review at this juncture,” Levine said.

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) instead asked that the committee delay considering the item until February. He said delaying a review would “in effect be ending this” because of a provision in the city code that calls for a planned development to be considered rejected if no action is taken for six months.

Tunney and Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) voted against deferring the project.

“It’s highly irregular that the developer is taking now a third shot at passing the same project, effectively, over the objections of the local community and their elected representative,” Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said. “If Ald. Napolitano wants this deferred, I defer to him. I believe it’s his choice and I wouldn’t want someone pushing something through over my objections, either.”

After the meeting, Glenstar zoning attorney Peter Friedman said the company was “monitoring” the meeting Tuesday and didn’t concede defeat. The company “will continue to work through the process with the broad array of community stakeholders who support” the “$90 million investment” in the area.

“Property owners, developers and tenants widely agree Chicago needs more housing development to address rising demand and housing affordability,” Friedman said. “Study after study indicate a residential development on this property, rather than more commercial space, will provide an overwhelmingly positive benefit to the area.

“This high-quality residential development will serve O’Hare area workers and the growing number of young professionals who either desire easy access to transit or those who choose not to commute Downtown.”

The vote is a reminder of the influence aldermen maintain over development in their wards. Although Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued an executive order on her first day in office curtailing the practice on other matters before the City Council, she has not fought aldermen over their influence on zoning issues.

Elsewhere in the 41st Ward, the committee unanimously approved a zoning change for a Starbucks at 5600 N. Harlem Ave., a lot that has sat vacant for at least 30 years, Napolitano said.

To accommodate concerns from the community, the company agreed to build a version of the coffee shop with indoor seating. It will allow customers to order through the app and have workers bring drinks to parked drivers.

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