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More aldermen speak out against Lincoln Yards development

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The transformative North Branch project is facing an increasingly steep uphill road at City Hall

Sterling Bay/Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

While the Lincoln Yards megaproject may have earned the unanimous recommendation of the Chicago Plan Commission last week, at least ten alderman—including some members of the City Council’s Zoning Committee—say that they intend to hold up the controversial $6 billion development.

On Wednesday 46th Ward Alderman James Cappleman, who replaces embattled 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis as the head of the city’s Zoning Committee, said he plans to slow down the process and demand more than 25 percent on-site affordable housing from developer Sterling Bay, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. The committee vote is next hurdle in line in the Lincoln Yards approval process.

Also on Wednesday, 1st Ward Alderman Joe Moreno announced that he is “presently against” the 55-acre North Branch proposal. Although the site is located outside the boundaries of his own ward, Moreno said Lincoln Yards “will have a significant impact” on nearby communities. The alderman cited the project’s reliance on a proposed $900 million tax increment financing (TIF) district and its low percentage of on-site affordable housing in his decision to vote against the proposal.

Alderman says Moreno intends to co-host a public meeting with the Wicker Park Committee community organization to present details of the recently amended plan and collect feedback. The meeting will take place at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, February 19 at the A.N. Pritzker Public School, located at 2009 W. Schiller Street.

Aldermen Smith and Waguespack, representing the neighboring 43rd and 32nd wards, spoke in opposition of the project and its rush to approval at last week’s Plan Commission meeting. The duo asked their City Council colleagues to table the proposal amidst an ongoing federal corruption investigation implicating aldermen Burke and Solis—respective former chairs the city’s Finance and Zoning committees.

Similar calls to pump the brakes on the approval process and approach the TIF district with caution were recently voiced by 33rd Ward Alderman Deb Mell, 44th Ward Alderman Tunney, 45th Ward Alderman John Arena, 48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman, 47th Alderman Ameya Pawar, and 35th Alderman Carlos Rosa. In all, ten of the city’s 50 aldermen have taken a public position against the massive riverfront project.

An alderman speaking out against a development outside his or her respective ward is somewhat unusual in Chicago, where subsequent votes typically defer to the local City Council representative in a practice known as “alderman prerogative” or “aldermanic privilege.” In the case of Lincoln Yards, that decision fell to 2nd Ward Alderman Brian Hopkins, who vehemently defended the project ahead of January’s Plan Commission vote.

In addition to needing to pass the Cappleman-chaired Zoning Committee, Lincoln Yards and its accompanying TIF will need to clear the Community Development Commission, Committee on Finance, and the full City Council for final approval.

As proposed, the Lincoln Yards project will replace formerly industrial land with 15 million square feet of mixed-use buildings, some rising as high as 600 feet. The SOM-designed masterplan also includes three new bridges, 21 acres of parkspace, a riverwalk, three water taxi stops, 6,000 residential units, and a westward extension of The 606 Trail.

A diagram of the Lincoln Yards masterplan.
Lincoln Yards