CHICAGO — In a rare move, a City Council committee advanced a long-stalled apartment development planned for the city’s Far Northwest Side over the objection of the local alderman.
Glenstar Properties aims to build 297 apartments near O’Hare Airport, 20 percent of which would be affordable, but Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) opposes changing the site’s zoning. The city’s Zoning Committee Tuesday voted in favor of the plan, breaking its long-standing tradition of aldermanic prerogative, or deferring to the local alderperson’s opinion when it comes to developments in their ward.
The full City Council could vote on the development as early as Wednesday.
Glenstar Properties presented plans for the site, 8535 W. Higgins Road on the border of the city and suburban Park Ridge, in 2016. It would be located near the Cumberland CTA Blue Line station.
Napolitano, City Council’s only registered Republican, has argued the area is overburdened with residential density and said he wants a commercial development at the site instead. He has denied his opposition to the project is because it includes affordable units.
Ahead of the vote Tuesday, Napolitano warned his colleagues that if they voted against him, “your community and you have no say any longer.”
Bringing the project back for a vote despite his previous attempts to block it was a “complete overstep of all of us as aldermen — including you some day,” he said.
“Today it’s commercial [zoning] that’s being forced into being changed to residential in 41,” Napolitano said. “Tomorrow [it] may be residential to manufacturing in your ward. Today I’m sitting in the hot seat, and you may like me or you may hate me, but your decision will definitely reflect the precedent when you are sitting in the hot seat tomorrow.”
Napolitano said he “would love to see the 200 proposed union jobs” constructing the building, but it needs to be a commercial use “like it’s zoned for.”
“We would rather see, instead of 14 permanent jobs, we’d rather see a couple 100 permanent jobs that would be employed at that same location,” he said.
But with strong support from Lightfoot, the committee approved the project in a 12-5 vote.
Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara said the project would support workers at O’Hare Airport as an equitable transit-oriented development located adjacent to the Blue Line and fulfills an “undeniable need” for affordable housing on the Far Northwest Side.
“All communities need to contribute to meeting the city’s affordable housing needs, all communities,” she said.
Novara also pushed back on Napolitano’s argument that his community’s opposition to the project should kill the deal, saying while community input is important, “those conversations need parameters.”
“So our local discussions need to be about how we provide access to jobs, not if, how we create transit-oriented development, not if, and how we provide affordable housing, not if,” she said.
The seven-story development will include 59 affordable apartments, including 20 units made affordable at or below 50 percent of the area median income; and another three made affordable to households earning at or below 40 percent of the area median income. Seventeen of the affordable apartments will be studios, 24 would be one-bedroom units and 18 would be two-bedroom units.
Ald. Harry Osterman (48th), chair of the Housing Committee, voted in support of the project.
“For our city to move forward, [affordable housing] has to be everywhere in the city and every community and every ward has to do its part,” Osterman said.
Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) said the project should be supported despite breaking the “precedent” of deferring to the local alderperson.
“I know it breaks a kind of precedent and decorum, and how the city has done things, it’s uncomfortable,” she said. “We have an affordable housing crisis, we have a housing crisis in general, and we need to walk the walk as well as talk the talk.”
The vote also comes just days before the city’s 50 alderpeople are due to reply to a federal investigation about whether aldermanic prerogative contributes to racial segregation in Chicago. Mayor Lori Lightfoot has vowed to rein in the practice, but has largely been unable to curb its use in zoning matters.
The Tribune reported last week the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development sent a questionnaire to all 50 alderpeople, due back Friday, probing to what extent they believe aldermanic prerogative plays in blocking affordable housing developments.
The federal probe and questionnaire stem from a complaint filed with HUD by housing activists and attorneys, alleging aldermanic prerogative “promotes housing discrimination by keeping low-income minorities from moving into affluent white neighborhoods,” according to the Tribune.