297-unit proposal for Higgins-Cumberland in 41st Ward is back again; a test of ‘aldermanic prerogative’ could play out again
by BRIAN NADIG
A proposal for a 297-unit apartment complex near Higgins and Cumberland avenues in the 41st Ward is back — nearly 2 ½ after the project’s developer dropped a lawsuit challenging the city’s decision to reject the plan in 2018.
Alderman Anthony Napolitano said that “without a doubt” he still opposes the seven-story development, which would include 270 parking spaces.“This is not what our ward wants. … It’s too dense,” he said, adding that the project would set a precedent. “That whole side of Higgins is commercial.”
Napolitano said that he suspects that the Lightfoot administration will support the project and that a test of aldermanic prerogative — the process by which the City Council defers local matters to the alderman of the affected ward — is forthcoming. The proposal appears similar to the one a few years ago.
“I’ve been warning everybody” that aldermen are losing their power to control local development proposals, Napolitano said.
In the past, development projects usually needed a letter of support from the local alderman before a proposal could move forward, but the Lightfoot administration has shifted the focus from requiring letters to only notifying aldermen, who can then choose to object, Napolitano said.
This would not be the first time that the proposal sparked a test of aldermanic prerogative.
In 2018 the City Council Zoning Committee narrowly defeated the proposal by a 7-5 vote, which is highly unusual.
Most of the committee’s votes are unanimous, as committee members usually follow the wishes of the local alderman. Some committee members indicated that that they supported the project because of its affordable housing component.
At the time Napolitano said that the project was never about affordable housing, as the original plans called for the developer, GlenStar Properties, to buy out of the affordable housing requirement by paying $125,000 for each of the required units into the city’s housing fund. He said that GlenStar only later agreed to include 30 on-site affordable units in an effort to get the support of housing advocates.
GlenStar then filed a lawsuit challenging the city’s decision but later dropped it and announced plans to build offices on the site, which is an underutilized section of land in front of the O’Hare Marriott Hotel, 8535 W. Higgins Ave. GlenStar already had constructed an office building on an adjacent parcel.
The zoning application for the 297-unit development is expected to be introduced at the council’s May 26 meeting.
Napolitano questioned the need for more apartments in the area. The O’Hare corridor has a large number of affordably priced apartments, many of which are for lease, he said.
The Chicago Plan Commission and the council’s zoning committee will be holding hearings on the proposal. Public testimony will be taken at those hearings.
An attorney for the project could not be reached for comment.