Committee puts aside aldermanic prerogative and approves 297-unit complex with 59 affordable apartments in 41st Ward despite Alderman Napolitano’s concerns
by BRIAN NADIG
Putting aside the longtime practice of aldermanic prerogative, the City Council Zoning Committee at its Dec. 14 meeting voted 12-5 in favor of a 297-unit apartment proposal that includes 59 affordable housing units at 8535 W. Higgins Ave. over the objections of Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st), whose ward the project is in.
Napolitano told committee members that their authority could be taken away next, leaving them and their ward with a zoning development which their residents do not want.
“You and your community have ‘no say’ any longer,” Napolitano told the committee. “You may be the next person who has to deal with it.”
On zoning matters, the council almost always defers the decision to the alderman of the ward where the project would be built, although some have said that this unofficial practice has blocked affordable housing development in wealthier neighborhoods.
The committee in 2018 voted 7-5 against the proposal and earlier this year voted to table a similar proposal for the property until February of next year, but the committee voted to change its decision on the postponement and hold the hearing at its Dec. 14 meeting. The number of affordable units has increased from seven in 2018 to 59 in the current proposal.
Several aldermen said that the city has an affordable housing crisis and that all communities must contribute to the solution.
“We have some really large issues in this city that impact us all,” Alderwoman Maria Hadden (49th) said.
During his comments at the hearing, Napolitano noted how Alderman Harry Osterman (48th) was now supporting the Higgins proposal even though he recently rejected a 20-unit housing proposal with four affordable units in his own ward. Osterman later responded that he supported an 80-unit “all-affordable” project across from that site in his ward.
Another supporter of the project was Alderman Gilbert Villegas (36th), who in 2016 rejected a 55-unit affordable housing project in his ward by Full Circle Communities.
Full Circle is currently building a mixed-income housing project in the 45th Ward and an affordable housing project in the 38th Ward.
The seven-story apartment complex near Higgins and Cumberland avenues would be built on an underutilized parking lot section of the Marriott O’Hare Hotel, next to the CTA Cumberland Blue Line Station. Some of the reduced-rent affordable units would be for households earning as low 40 percent of the area median income, according to project attorney Liz Butler.
Chicago housing commissioner Marisa Novara testified that the development would help provide affordable housing for employees at the nearby O’Hare International Airport, where she said the average salary is about $33,000 for many of the jobs. “We can’t have them travel 2 hours to get there,” she said.
Novara added that the project would not be receiving any city subsidies, as the developer GlenStar would be financing the affordable units. The city “can’t subsidize our way out” of the housing crisis, she said.
Novara also testified that city policy calls for denser developments near transit centers. “We’ve tripled down on that decision as a city,” she said.
Napolitano told the committee that there are about 7,500 apartments within a “seven by seven block radius” of the development site, with at least 300 vacancies. “That’s an immense amount of apartments in this location,” he said. “Some are listed as low as $750 online.”
Napolitano said that the area’s public elementary school, Dirksen, is “almost already at maximum capacity” despite a recent addition. He added that families at the school represent “100 different nations.”
“There is an immense amount of diversity in that area that everyone pretends does not exist,” Napolitano said.
About 2,500 people have signed a petition against the proposal, Napolitano said. The Chicago Federation of Labor and Metropolitan Planning Council were among those organizations testifying favor of the proposal.
It is projected that the development would house five to 16 school-age children for the public schools, Butler said.
The full council could approve the project, which has been in the works for at least 4 years, at its Dec. 15 meeting.