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City planners move to bring additional oversight and transparency to megaprojects

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The public will get a greater say when to comes to Chicago’s largest developments

A rendering of a mixed-use urban campus with glassy high-rise towers, retail and entertainment space, pedestrians paths, and planted trees.
A conceptual rendering of the One Central megadevelopment slated for the railyard next to Soldier Field.
Landmark Development

The kind of massive megadevelopments that defined the tenure of former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel may receive closer scrutiny from City Hall and the public in accordance with new rules proposed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration.

Chicago’s largest construction projects will be required to face extra neighborhood meetings, provide the public with more information, and make appropriate changes based on community feedback, under the city’s proposed draft “Master Planned Development” guidelines.

The extra scrutiny would apply to “megaprojects” defined as private developments exceeding 20 acres, 4 million square feet of space, or 4,000 residential units. Public projects exceeding 10 acres, 2.5 million square feet, or 2,500 dwelling units would also be subject to the new rules.

Currently, the city requires all projects that trigger a Planned Development review to host at least one public meeting. Though many aldermen mandate additional public engagement in their respective wards, some projects don’t see the light of day until they arrive at the Plan Commission for a vote—which technically counts as a public meeting.

If adopted, the new rules for megadevelopments would require one city-initiated community meeting before a zoning application is filed with the city, an internal meeting with city planners to review proposed changes pursuant to community input, a community meeting to present any changes, and one or more community follow-up meetings after the zoning application is filed—pending any changes.

Megaprojects “warrant more technical analysis,” according to the draft guidelines. The proposed changes scrutinize a project’s programming and mass as well as other considerations like market trends, potential economic impacts, parking and traffic demands, and environmental concerns.

“The draft guidelines provide more opportunities for community stakeholders to understand and influence how very large development projects may affect their neighborhoods,” said Chicago Plan Commission Chair Teresa Cordova in a statement.

The Chicago Department of Planning and Development introduced the measure at last week’s meeting of the Chicago Plan Commission. The DPD says it will accept public comment on the draft guidelines through Monday, November 18.

Although the revised procedures come too late to affect projects like Lincoln Yards and The 78, they do have the potential to impact yet-to-be-approved developments. This includes the multiphase redevelopment of Bronzeville’s former Michael Reese Hospital site, the One Central high-rise project proposed above the railyard next to Soldier Field, and the long-awaited redevelopment of the vacant U.S. Steel South Works site.