UPTOWN — A developer’s plan to turn a Weiss Hospital parking lot into a 12-story apartment complex received critical city backing Thursday, bringing the controversial development one step closer to approval.
The proposal to bring 314 apartments to 4600 N. Marine Drive was approved by the Plan Commission in a 9-3 vote after a robust debate on the development’s affordable component and Weiss’ future in the neighborhood. It now must receive support from the Committee on Zoning and the full City Council support before work can begin.
About a dozen neighbors and local officials spoke out against the Weiss development, which has become a rallying point in the battle over gentrification in Uptown.
Lincoln Property Company is under contract to buy the Weiss parking lot, where developers want to build a courtyard-style apartment building. The 314-unit building would include 136 parking spaces, a bike room and a rooftop deck.
Supporters say selling the parking lot to a developer would make better use of a lakefront property and inject cash into Weiss, a community hospital. Opponents contend the development could accelerate gentrification in Uptown and doesn’t have enough affordable units. They also say they don’t trust Weiss’s new ownership group, which has been criticized for buying and promptly closing a suburban hospital.
Plans call for the minimum of eight affordable units, under city ordinance. Lincoln will contribute $3.1 million to Sarah’s Circle — an in-lieu payment for the remaining 23 required affordable units — for a housing facility in Uptown.
Sending the in-lieu payment to Sarah’s Circle rather than to city-controlled coffers allows this development to help people verging on homelessness in the neighborhood, rather than including more on-site affordable units that seek to benefit middle and low-income earners, Ald. James Cappleman (46th) said.
“I can’t stress enough how important this is,” he said.
Several Plan Commission members championed the plan to send the funds to Sarah’s Circle, but others said it’s not fair to make an affordable housing development’s funding contingent on approving more luxury housing.
“We don’t need to take from one opportunity to give to another,” Plan Commission member Guacolda Reyes said.
The project was approved by the Plan Commission after a bumpy review process by Cappleman’s zoning and development advisory committee.
Last month, the alderperson’s zoning advisory board rejected the development in a razor-thin vote. One week later, the Northalsted Business Alliance said its representative voted against the wishes of the chamber group, which asked that its vote be changed from opposing the project to supporting it.
That flipped the vote to 16 in favor and 15 opposed. Cappleman usually follows the guidance of his zoning committee. But since the vote change was so unprecedented and the vote so close, Cappleman said he would make a final determination on whether to support the project.
In a letter to members of his zoning committee, Cappleman said he supports the development. The project will boost affordable housing options in the ward while allowing for investment into Weiss Hospital, Cappleman said in his letter.
Some neighbors vehemently oppose the project, however.
At least 15 neighbors and community groups submitted letters of opposition to the Plan Commission. Included is two professors at University of Illinois at Chicago who just completed a four-year study into the history of development and displacement in Uptown.
UIC professor Anna Guevarra said Uptown has lost diversity and increased its population of white residents by over 10 percent since 1990 while other groups’ numbers have declined due in part to development.
“Supporting this development will not revitalize or create community,” Guevarra said.
State Sen. Mike Simmons of Uptown opposes the project, saying he had previously been priced out of the area of Uptown near Weiss due to development activity.
Plan Commission Chair Teresa Córdova said she appreciated that so many community members weighed in on a project they think will change their neighborhood. She said it was the Plan Commission’s responsibility to consider issues of gentrification when reviewing project.
“In a sense, this is a bigger issue than one development,” she said. “It still seems like every development is an opportunity to think about this and think about what can be done to help stem the tide of that.”
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