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Chicago Plan Commission OK’s transformative North Branch initiative

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The move clears a path to opening the industrial land to new offices, residences, and green space

Chicago Department of Planning and Development

The Chicago Plan Commission voted yesterday on a sweeping measure to revisit the primarily industrial zoning of a 3.7-mile stretch of the Chicago River’s North Branch between Kinzie Street and Fullerton Avenue. Known as the North Branch Industrial Corridor Framework Plan, it was drafted by the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) over the past eleven months with input from city officials, local residents, and other stakeholders. Considered to be a “once-in-a-generation” planning opportunity, the scope of the document covers 760 acres of prime waterfront real estate.

The changes aim to recognize the area’s shift from traditional industry to advanced manufacturing, innovation, and high tech office space and open the land to new uses. The framework plan also includes a number of future transportation recommendations for the corridor including new bridges, an “intelligent” stoplight system, an overhaul of the Clybourn Metra station, and an eastward extension of The 606 elevated trail.

While the plan includes new wetland conservation areas and riverfront trails, a late change mandates that developers set aside a minimum of 10 acres for open space. Despite this concession, advocates calling for more parkland—including Alderman Michele Smith (43rd)—argued that the planning department’s model was too reliant on private developers to create green space within their individual project sites. Smith suggested that this would create "a patchwork of open spaces" instead of the "contiguous" sort of park residents and recreational sports leagues need, reported DNAinfo.

After much testimony and debate, the commissioners ultimately voted unanimously in favor of the North Branch Industrial Framework Plan. The vote, however, does not in itself change any of the corridor’s zoning. Instead, as a general land use plan, it will be implemented to guide future developments in the area.

The North Branch is the first of Chicago’s 26 industrial corridors to have its zoning guidelines extensively reviewed and updated by the City of Chicago and many—if not all—are expected to eventually follow suit. The Department of Planning and Development further explained the next steps in the process for the North Branch via email:

The Framework will be utilized by the Plan Commission and City Council to implement initial zoning changes that will foster mixed-use business investment in the northern and southern portions of the corridor. The Framework will also be used to guide the public review of future proposals by private developers, and to implement new funding tools that support the infrastructure needs of the North Branch and industrial and commercial corridors across the city.

DPD will finalize a series of ordinances to help implement the Framework's planning principles this summer. The department will provide updates and community input opportunities in the weeks and months ahead.

Yesterday’s meeting was scheduled to begin at 10:00 a.m. and, despite a fire drill at City Hall delaying things, the North Branch plan took a staggering four hours to debate and finally vote upon. After the Chicago Plan Commission approved the measure, the group quickly green-lit a handful of other, less controversial items.

6418 North Sheridan Road

↑ Located in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood, this seven-story mixed-use development will contain 111 units, 125 underground parking spaces, and nearly 30,000 square feet of retail space expected to be anchored by a Target store. Designed by GREC Architects, the project is a joint venture between Three Corners Development and the Chicago Housing Authority. It will contain 65 CHA units on site.

2900 South Hillock Avenue

↑ This Bridgeport development on the south branch of the Chicago River was approved to modify its previous zoning in order to construct a four-story residential building. The multifamily structure will contain 28 dwelling units with 28 accessory parking spaces. It will join 17 new single family homes already planned for the site.

4849 North Lipps Avenue

↑ Though somewhat controversial among local residents due to its 16-story height, the Plan Commission approved a mixed-use development for 4849 N. Lipps Avenue in the Jefferson Park neighborhood on Chicago’s northwest side. Known as “Jefferson Place,” the high-rise will contain 114 rental units and ground floor retail space. Despite its location steps from the Jefferson Park Transit Center, the proposal will feature 200 parking spaces to accommodate residents, shoppers, and commuters.