June 26 hearing set for 41st Ward zoning proposal which is subject of a lawsuit
by BRIAN NADIG
The City Council Zoning Committee at its June 26 meeting is scheduled to hear a 299-unit apartment proposal near Higgins and Cumberland avenues which has been held in committee for months and is the subject of a lawsuit filed by the developer against the city.
The meeting will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday in the Council Chamber at City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St.
The hearing could be a test of the longstanding practice of aldermanic prerogative in which council committees defer zoning decisions to the local alderman. The lawsuit claims that the practice is unfair.
Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st) opposes the proposal, citing school overcrowding in the ward and a police manpower shortage in the 16th (Jefferson Park) Police District. In March, the project’s developer, GlenStar Properties, filed a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment which would require the city to let the project be built.
GlenStar has argued that the project would have little impact on the schools because the upscale apartment complex would cater to young professionals who want to take the Blue Line either to O’Hare Airport or the Loop. The complex would have only 14 school-aged children, according to a study cited by the developer.
Napolitano’s chief of staff Chris Vittorio said that the developer’s estimate seems low given that “the area is almost all apartments, and (Dirksen School) is one of the most overcrowded in the city” and that the school cannot handle “even 14” more students.
Neighbors for Affordable Housing in Jefferson Park has claimed that opposition to the project centers around affordable housing and efforts to keep the ward “closed” to lower-income Chicagoans. GlenStar’s lawsuit makes a similar allegation.
The zoning application calls for seven of the 299 apartments to be offered at below-market rate rents, which would be targeted to those families earning about 60 percent of the area’s median income.
Vittorio said that the alderman’s concerns have nothing to do with affordable housing and that GlenStar initially planned to buy out all 30 affordable units in the development, paying about $125,000 per unit to the city’s housing fund. The city requires 10 percent of the units to be affordable, with a buyout option.
However, a change in the affordable housing ordinance prevented a complete buyout, Vittorio said. GlenStar owner Larry Debb later offered to include 30 affordable units in the development at the request of a Chicago Plan Commission member.
Whether a zoning project includes 10-percent affordable units or a buyout is a decision left up to a developer, with possible input from the ward’s zoning advisory committee, Vittorio said. “The law is the law,” he said.
The advisory committee approved GlenStar’s proposal in January of 2017, but Napolitano later decided to go against the committee’s recommendation after what the alderman has described a noticeable shift against high-density proposals on the Far Northwest Side.
Napolitano has attributed some of the density opposition in his ward to concerns about a seven-story, mixed-income housing proposal at 5150 N. Northwest Hwy. in the 45th Ward.
Alderman John Arena, who supports the housing proposal, has signed a pledge calling for 50 new Chicago Housing Authority units in the 45th Ward to help desegregate the ward, and his office filed dozens of complaints against government workers who oppose the proposal, claiming that their online comments were racially charged.
Some of the comments compared the proposal to Cabrini Green, a subsidized housing project which the city had demolished in 2011. Those workers facing disciplinary action include about 30 police officers and 15 firefighters in Chicago.
Surveys conducted by project supporters in early 2017 showed that residents’ top objection to the Northwest Highway proposal was school overcrowding, according to e-mails released from the city through a Freedom of Information Act request. The area is served by Taft High School and Beaubien School, and both are overcrowded. The Northwest Highway proposal was reduced earlier this year from 100 to 75 apartments.
There have been reports that Napolitano sent a letter of support for GlenStar’s project to the city Department of Planning and Development, but Vittorio said that the 2016 letter was for a previous mixed-use proposal for the site which never materialized. “That was for a totally different development and a different developer,” he said.
GlenStar’s project would be built on an underutilized section of land in front of the Marriott O’Hare Hotel, 8535 W. Higgins Ave. Currently GlenStar is building an office complex on a neighboring lot to the west.