Plan Commission approves 297-unit complex (59 affordable) in 41st Ward, but council approval not a given
by BRIAN NADIG
The Chicago Plans Commission at its Aug. 26 meeting approved a seven-story, 297-unit apartment complex with 59 affordable housing units at 8535 W. Higgins Ave. over the objections of Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st), who has said the proposal likely would not be approved by the City Council Zoning Committee.
Both Napolitano and commission member Alderman Nicholas Sposato (38th) raised objections to comments made at the hearing by city housing commissioner Marisa Novara.
She said that the city’s long history of racial segregation and lack of appropriate housing choices in many communities is the result of not basing zoning decisions on citywide goals and needs, adding that each ward shares in the responsibility of addressing the problem.
“I really want to push back on the notion there is no need on the Northwest Side” for more housing, including affordable units, Novara said. “There is not a carveout for the O’Hare community.”
She added, “(On racial segregation) we did not get this way by accident.
Sposato said, “This is about density. … Let’s not bring out the race card, like we always do.” He added, “We are not at-large aldermen. We are representatives for our wards.”
Napolitano said that he was “appalled at the statement commissioner Novara made.”
He added that when the commission approved virtually the same project several year ago, the developer GlenStar Properties was proposing to conduct a maximum buyout of the affordable housing requirement, and that his opposition at that time and now is based solely on density concerns.
The project was later rejected in 2018 by the City Council Zoning Committee by a narrow 7 to 5 vote. GlenStar recently filed a new zoning application for the project and increased the number of planned affordable units from the previous seven to 59. (In the time between the two applications for the project, GlenStar sued the city, seeking permission to build the project, but later dropped the lawsuit.)
Napolitano told the commission that there are “400 to 500 vacant”apartments within about 500 yards from the development site, which is an underutilized parking lot just to the north of the Marriott O’Hare Hotel.
According to the city Department of Housing and Development, 94.4 percent of existing O’Hare area housing stick was constructed between 1940-99 and that 93 percent is occupied. In addition, the department said 519 units in the area are vacant and available. A project official said that more recent data indicates that the area’s occupancy is at 96 percent, which commission chair Teresa Cordova described as at the high end of the spectrum.
Several representatives of the Neighbors for Affordable Housing testified in favor of the project, arguing that it would give more housing choices for workers at O’Hare Airport and that many of the area’s residents are paying too high a percentage of their income for housing.
The rents for the project’s market-rate units would be about $2,000 for a one-bedroom apartment and $1,600 for a studio, which would range between $653 and $980 for the affordable housing tenants, according to project representative Liz Butler.
Planning commissioner Maurice Cox testified that a high-density development for the site is in line with the city’s transit-oriented development policy, which calls for more housing near transit centers. The site is a short walk from the Cumberland Blue Line Station.
“Our job as a city is to expand housing choice,” Cox said.
Napolitano said that about 2,500 people signed a petition against the project and that the petition was given to the commission.
Next up for the proposal is a hearing in front of the zoning committee, which earlier this year voted 11 to 2 to table the measure indefinitely. The committee usually adheres to the practice of aldermanic prerogative, which is the unofficial policy of basing decisions on the wishes of the alderman of the ward where the project would be located. The philosophy behind the practice is that “if you don’t mess with my ward, I wont mess with your ward.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot has often argued against aldermanic prerogative, but zoning ultimately remains a legislative decision controlled by the members of the City Council, not her administration. The plan commission’s approval serves as a recommendation to the council.