O’HARE — A long-brewing plan to build nearly 300 new apartments near the Cumblerland CTA Blue Line station is set to face a key vote on Thursday, setting up a test of whether city planning officials, developers, interest groups and affordable housing organizers can overcome the opposition of the neighborhood’s alderman.
Glenstar’s proposal to build a seven-story, 297-unit apartment complex at 8535 W. Higgins Rd. in the 41st Ward, first introduced in 2017, is one of 17 applications scheduled for consideration during a marathon meeting of the Chicago Plan Commission at 9 a.m. Thursday. Department of Planning and Development officials are set to lend their endorsement to the plan despite staunch opposition from Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st), who has insisted his constituents overwhelmingly oppose the project.
The same developer surfaced a similar version of the plan in 2016 and the Chicago Plan Commission approved it in 2017, only for the City Council Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards to narrowly vote it down at Napolitano’s request.
But Glenstar returned in May with a nearly identical version of its original plan — albeit with more affordable units, and some tweaks to its exterior design.
In June, Napolitano appealed to his colleagues on the zoning committee to defeat the proposal again, saying he feared its approval could set a new citywide precedent eroding aldermen’s unwritten powers to kill development proposals in their own wards.
“My fear is that … this could happen from time to time in probably all of our wards now when a project is voted down — that it’s just going to come back in and try to go past the alderman who actually answers to the constituents,” Napolitano told the committee during the June 22 meeting. “We didn’t support it then, we don’t support it now. I’m hoping my colleagues understand that.”
The committee then voted to approve a motion by Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) to defer the committee’s consideration of the zoning change until February 2022. Lopez pointed to a city rule requiring the zoning committee to consider development applications within six months of their approval by the plan commission. An eight-month delay would effectively kill the proposal, he reasoned.
Napolitano remains opposed to the project. He did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday, but he led off his weekly constituent newsletter on Friday by asking neighbors to register their opposition to the plan on Thursday.
“Glenstar, with the support of Chicago’s Department of Planning, is now trying to gain approval from the Chicago Plan Commission in hopes to go back to the City Council Committee on Zoning for a favorable vote,” Napolitano wrote in the newsletter. “Glenstar is aware that our community is against their high-density residential development, but is insistently trying to gain approval against our wishes.”
“We have warned that this was coming,” Napolitano added. “If this developer is successful in sidestepping local community approval, developers will be targeting locations throughout the 41st Ward and the City of Chicago.”
But Glenstar kept pushing ahead on its zoning application. Managing principal Michael Klein dismissed Napolitano’s fears on Wednesday, telling The Daily Line that the alderman has never given a reason for his opposition “that’s based on facts.”
Standing 90 feet tall with 270 parking spaces, their proposal would cast a smaller shadow and create less car traffic than an office building whose construction would be allowed under the site’s existing zoning, Klein said. He noted that the project site is surrounded not by single-family homeowners, but by mid-rise office and hotel buildings, whose owners have cited a lack of nearby homes where their workers can live.
Napolitano “said the neighbors around really don’t want it, but the only neighbors around are commercial” property owners, Klein said. “We’ve talked to them all, and they’re the ones who are pushing for us to do this, and they support it.”
Glenstar is also touting support for the project from the Chicago Federation of Labor, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, the Chicago Apartment Association and the Neighbors for Affordable Housing.
Neighbors for Affordable Housing celebrated Glenstar’s move to bump up the proposal’s affordable housing component to 59 apartments, or about 20 percent of the unit total. Klein said his firm decided to boost the affordable component to bring the project in line with the next iteration of the city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance, which is set to take effect in October.
“Here’s an opportunity to get roughly another 60 affordable units in a part of the city that has been denied affordable housing historically,” Neighbors for Affordable Housing co-founder Michael Rabbitt said. “And we know from anecdotal evidence that’s this is a part of the 41st Ward that has a greater need for affordable housing than more affluent parts of the ward.”
Rabbitt’s group, formerly known as Neighbors for Affordable Housing in Jefferson Park, was founded in 2017 to support a controversial 75-unit mixed-income housing complex at 5150 N. Northwest Hwy. in the 45th Ward. Rabbitt noted that more than 700 people have already applied to live in the Northwest Highway building.
Another 59 affordable homes “could have a 5150-type impact,” Rabbitt said — especially for workers at O’Hare Airport. “This could be a big win for working-class Chicagoans.”
If the proposal passes the plan commission, it will still need approval from the zoning committee and full City Council before it may move forward.
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), who chairs the zoning committee, has kept a consistent practice of never bringing any proposal up for a vote unless the site’s local alderman has voiced support. But despite Napolitano’s opposition, Klein said Wednesday that he is “very optimistic” that aldermen will warm up to the plan.
“I think there may be aldermen who look at the project as a whole, who look at what [Napolitano] is saying he doesn’t support about it, and then look at the facts, and they’re going to see they don’t add up,” Klein said. “I don’t think it’s about us believing aldermanic prerogative doesn’t have a place — it absolutely does — but I think it has to be based on something reasonable.”
Six Corners Sears, Norwood Park houses
The O’Hare-area apartment complex is one of three Far Northwest Side developments set for consideration by the plan commission on Thursday, joining a long-awaited proposal by Novak Construction to redevelop the former Sears building at 4730 W. Irving Park Road in the 45th Ward.
Redevelopment of the property at the center of the Six Corners Shopping District has been brewing since before 2018, when the last Sears in Chicago closed at the high-traffic site. Conversations over the property culminated last month, when Novak Construction submitted a plan to the City Council (O2021-3108) to build a six-story mixed-use development with 209 apartments on top of about 50,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space.
The developer plans to meet the minimum requirements of the city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance by including six affordable units on site, less than 3 percent of the total units. It will supplement the on-site units with an approximately $2 million payment to the city’s Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund.
Neighbors for Affordable Housing is opposing the project on the grounds that it does not include “nearly enough” affordable units, Rabbitt said Wednesday.
The total project will include 270 parking spaces, exceeding the 155 stalls required under the requested zoning change, according to the planned development. It will include 68 bike parking spaces.
Separately on Thursday, the plan commission is set to hear a proposal (O2021-1960) from Wayne Moretti of Lexington Homes, Inc. to build 50 new detached single-family homes near 7400 W. Talcott Ave. in the 41st Ward. Each house will be outfitted with a two-car garage, and the developer plans 15 additional “guest parking spaces” along a “newly created residential street,” according to the planning department.