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Lincoln Yards passes contentious zoning meeting

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The controversial project was approved by a 9-4 margin

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill/Sterling Bay

On Thursday, Sterling Bay’s massive $6 billion Lincoln Yards project passed in a 9-4 vote at a drama-filled meeting of the city’s Zoning Committee at City Hall.

The 55-acre development went into the meeting under a cloud of uncertainty regarding whether acting committee chairman and 46th Ward Alderman James Cappleman would delay the vote on the controversial project. Cappleman had pushed Sterling Bay for more on-site affordable housing, which it recently doubled from 300 to 600 units.

Although Cappleman opened the meeting with an attempt to defer the decision—much to the delight of the project’s opponents—the matter went ahead when 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett Jr. called on the committee members to “vote on the vote,” reported the Sun-Times. The measure passed, and the meeting pressed forward.

Following four hours of debate and public testimony, Cappleman—along with aldermen Ameya Pawar, George Cardenas, and Deb Mell—cast no votes against the Lincoln Yards master plan. The motion was carried with yes votes from aldermen Carrie Austin, Howard Brookins Jr., Walter Burnett Jr., Michelle Harris, Margaret Laurino, Raymond Lopez, David Moore, Matthew O’Shea, and Brendan Reilly.

Following Thursday’s vote, the Lincoln Yards plan will next head to the full Chicago City Council for final zoning approval on Wednesday. Although roughly a dozen aldermen have spoken out against the massive proposal, a majority of the 50-member council would be needed to vote down the plan. In the event of a tie Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is in favor of the transformative North Branch development, would cast the decisive vote.

Meanwhile, the proposed Cortland/Chicago River TIF district that would divert as much as $1.3 billion in future tax revenue to reimburse Sterling Bay for Lincoln Yards-related infrastructure improvements requires approval by the Finance Committee as well as the full Council.

The recent increase in on-site affordable housing wasn’t the only last-minute tweak to the Lincoln Yards plan. The project’s overall density shrank slightly from 15 million square feet to 14.5 million, and the tallest tower was trimmed from 650 to 595 feet in height.

Just before the meeting, Alderman Brian Hopkins—whose 2nd Ward includes Lincoln Yards—revealed that Sterling Bay had agreed to an additional layer of aldermanic and community scrutiny as each future phase of the megaproject moves forward. The developer will be required to submit detailed site plans, landscape plans, and traffic plans to both Hopkins and local community group for review, according to Crain’s.

The oversight, however, will not require any formal, legally-binding city approvals unless the changes are outside the scope of the Planned Development applications passed by the Zoning Committee on Thursday and Chicago Plan Commission in January. The sprawling riverfront development is still expected to include 6,000 residential units and 21 acres of open space and attract up to 23,000 jobs.