45th Ward candidates discuss zoning
by BRIAN NADIG
The six candidates in the 45th Ward race for alderman agree on the need for community input on zoning decisions, but differ on whether developers can seek partial buyouts of affordable housing requirements.
Control over zoning usually rests in the hands of the local alderperson due to the unofficial practice of “aldermanic prerogative” in which the other 49 City Council members usually agree to vote in tow with how the affected ward’s alderman votes.
Zoning and other development-related matters are often a top issue with voters.
Nadig Newspapers asked the candidates about their views on the zoning review process ahead of the Feb. 28 election.
Editor’s note: The candidates answers are presented in order based on their ballot position.
“Any major development proposal would be presented at a community meeting, open to all. Additionally, specific input would be sought from all local registered neighborhood organizations and business associations (chambers of commerce, etc) within that community,” Ernst said.
She added, “Any neighbors within 250 feet of a zoning change are required by ordinance to receive written notification, and the aldermanic office would follow up with this notification separately if the development will have significant impact on their properties. Finally, residents would be welcome to visit the office during regularly scheduled ward nights to voice any further thoughts or concerns.”
Ernst said that “currently there are community groups who are not” part of some of the zoning discussions and that as alderperson she would make sure all interested organizations have a seat at the table.
A city ordinance requires, in most circumstances, for 20 percent of the units in zoning developments with 10 or more units to be offered at below market rates. The units are typically for households earning about 60 percent of the area median income. Developers can opt to pay a fee of about $120,000 to the city’s housing fund for each affordable unit that is not built.
Developers are limited on the number of affordable units that they can pay an in-lieu fee. These fees are used to provide rent subsidies for low-income families and to pay for construction and preservation of affordable housing.
“My intention is to not allow partial buyouts. Allowing them defeats the purpose of the requirement, which is to ensure continued economic diversity in our communities,” Ernst said.
“Speaking with business owners and residents alike, everyone agrees that we need a robust development plan to attract business and good paying jobs to our communities. This, of course, begins with zoning, and the informed decision-making process that is guided by community input and decisive leadership from the alderman’s office,” Mathias said.
“My approach, as outlined in my ‘Vision45 Economic Development Plan,’ is to create and implement a community-driven zoning board committee that is engaged throughout the whole process – from the time a developer proposes a project, until that project is put to a vote on whether it should move forward. This also includes proposals for new housing developments, which I believe are key to preserving the character and cohesiveness of our communities,” Mathias said.
On affordable housing, Mathias said, “Striking the balance between affordable housing and economic development is attainable and necessary, as there is no one-size-fits-all solution to our ward’s economic diversity.
“Even within the ward, there are significantly different communities with different needs. The issue of the buyout would depend on the nature of the project. It is important that we consider the affordability of the project overall and its location. For example, are the units proposed within 120 percent of the area median income? Can the neighbor firefighter or teacher afford to live there?”
Alderman James Gardiner (45th):
Gardiner defended his zoning review process, which he said includes meeting with community groups and discussing proposals with residents who live near proposed development sites.
Gardiner said he then holds a public meeting to gather additional input and that he has had fliers announcing community meetings distributed to homes before he makes decisions.
“I think we have been very successful. Look at Six Corners,” Gardiner said. He said that $475 million of development is coming to the commercial area, including a senior living complex, a medical facility and the Sears mixed-use redevelopment.
In the past, Gardiner has allowed developers to seek partial buyouts of the city’s affordable housing requirements.
Gardiner said allowing buyouts is not a simple “yes or no” decision. “It depends on the particular need in that area and the feedback we receive,” he said.
“As the alderperson, there are tremendous opportunities for us to house all of our neighbors. The alderpeople play a large role in the development of areas throughout the city and passing ‘Bring Chicago Home’ (a funding proposal to help combat homelessness) would show that we care about our unhoused neighbors.
“As a socialist I believe housing is a human right, we need more housing and more affordable housing in our ward and in our city. The process I would embark on is creating community meetings that bring the stakeholders together and allow for an open discussion including in person and Zoom,” Santoyo said.
She adds, “Who is at the table is decided by the alderperson and expanding that table to include those most directly impacted by the lack of housing development throughout the ward. The voices of those that would benefit from the expansion of housing would be prioritized over the anti building minority that is vocal in these meetings.”
No buyouts would be allowed, Santoyo said.
“We should be rewarding builders who are determined to house all our neighbors and not continue to create unaffordable studio and small one-bedroom apartments. 5150 N. Milwaukee showed the drastic need for affordable housing. My administration would push for the expansion of affordable housing over any new luxury apartment buildings,” Santoyo said.
“As 45th Ward alderperson, I will hold monthly community meetings with zoning matters as a regular part of the agenda. Potential developers and affected area residents will be notified to give input on any proposed projects.
“This is a transparent and open process of evaluating zoning proposals and fully engaging the impacted residents. There will be no backroom deals with developers as there have been in the past,” Tomic said.
Tomic added, “I will seek to limit high density projects that would alter the residential character of the ward, leading to congestion and parking issues that would negatively impact the quality of life for its residents.” She said that many families move to the Northwest Side to escape the congestion of higher density neighborhoods.
On the affordable housing requirement, Tomic said, “I would support continuing the buyout provision because it allows developers flexibility and gives the city the ability to generate additional revenue for affordable housing projects throughout the city without having to raise those funds from the taxpayers. If the buyout provision were to be eliminated how would the city replace those lost funds? It would be necessary to raise those revenues from other sources the taxpayer would have to pay, such as increases in sales tax, property taxes, and other fees.”
“The current lack of transparency and genuine community engagement is one of the key issues I plan to address as alderman. … The ward website would have a clearly defined zoning review process posted so developers and residents know what to expect from the start. Upon taking office, I would work with community-led organizations to agree upon which group(s) will lead on projects that fall within designated boundaries so that it’s clear before projects are proposed who will play what role,” Suh said.
Developers would have to complete and submit a zoning request packet, which would include details such as the proposed plan and initial renderings, density, height, and commitment to use union labor, contract with women and minority-owned businesses and other expected benefits to the community, Suh said.
A staff member who would have experience in urban planning would help review and guide proposals through the community input process and proposals would be posted on the ward’s Web site, Suh said.
“Once reviewed, my office would designate the community group(s) responsible for organizing, promoting and hosting a public community meeting concerning the proposed zoning amendment,” he said.
“Following the public meeting, I would then solicit letters of support or opposition from the community groups in a timely manner. Based on the groups’ recommendation and overall community input, I would make a timely public announcement regarding my decision about the current proposal. A proposal might go through multiple iterations of this process to address neighbor concerns and feedback,” Suh said.
Suh said he would be generally opposed to allowing affordable housing requirement buyouts.