Lincoln Yards Chicago Zoning Vote Looms | WBEZ
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Lincoln Yards Supporters And Opponents Rev Up For Chicago Zoning Hearing

Chicagoans on both sides of the controversial $6 billion Lincoln Yards development have been jockeying this week ahead of a critical vote Thursday.

Protesters, many of them affiliated with the Chicago Teachers Union, showed up at 46th Ward Ald. James Cappleman’s office late Tuesday to air their anger over Lincoln Yards and the $1.3 billion in taxpayer money the city is poised to earmark for infrastructure in the new neighborhood.

“I don’t see why—these big companies—(why) we have to give them money,” teacher Oscar Ortiz told Cappleman’s staffers and his fellow protesters. Cappleman wasn’t in the office when the protesters showed up with their noisemakers and placards.

“Poor people are shamed for needing subsidized housing, but the wealthy is never shamed for stealing from the taxpayers and everybody on the bottom,” added Uptown resident Andrena Belcher. She said the city is pushing out the poor, working class and even the middle class.

“So stop the Lincoln Yards development, ‘cause it’s one big expansion of the same mentality and the same brutality in economics,” Belcher said.  

Later, the protesters and a busload of high school students set up school desks on Cappleman’s front lawn (police were called, the desks moved to the sidewalk) to highlight all that their schools are missing.

“This is money we could use to hire more nurses, librarians, counselors and social workers,” one student told the crowd. “[It’s] $900 million that Chicago has for luxury neighborhoods but not for our schools.”

The protesters want Cappleman, now head of the City Council’s powerful zoning committee, to cancel a hearing he called for Thursday. The meeting is required for the project to advance.

The 54-acre site of the proposed mega-development straddles the Chicago River between North and Webster Avenues, and is slated to transform the fading industrial area into an entirely new neighborhood featuring 50-story skyscrapers, corporate headquarters, retail, and 6,000 units of housing, most of it high end. The project is predicted to attract 23,000 jobs.

Earlier Tuesday, 2nd Ward Ald. Brian Hopkins, whose ward encompasses the project, announced developer Sterling Bay had agreed to move 300 units of the affordable housing it’s required by the city to build into the development itself.

“We are doubling the number of on-site units that will be constructed within the boundaries of Lincoln Yards,” Hopkins said.

The number of on-site units is increasing from 300 units in the original plan to 600 units. Sterling Bay is not agreeing to more affordable housing overall—it’s providing the minimum required by Chicago ordinance—but 300 units Sterling Bay had proposed building off site will now be included on site.

All on-site affordable housing will be rental, Hopkins said. Half will be targeted to families at 60 percent of the area’s median income. Half will be targeted to families making 50 percent of the area’s median.

“Quite a few of my fellow aldermen wanted to see a commitment from the developer that the Lincoln Yards community would be an inclusive community, it would be a welcoming community, it would be designed for Chicagoans from all walks of life to live and to reside,” said Hopkins.

He said having 10 percent on-site affordable housing makes a strong statement.

Hopkins says he’s supporting this project because of the jobs it’s expected to bring, and he described the affordable housing as “a major gain.”   

“To have the opportunity to bring 900 units of affordable housing on the North Side at one time is unprecedented. That is a massive increase in the number of affordable units in an area that frankly has a severe deficit,” Hopkins said.

The concession won over some housing advocates and community groups.

“The Lincoln Yards Project represents an opportunity to create equity,” said Diane Limas, board president of the group Communities United, in a statement released to reporters.

She called Lincoln Yards “one of the largest affordable housing projects in the country.”

Hopkins said a one-bedroom affordable unit in the development will go for $900 dollars a month. Affordability provisions will remain in place for 30 years. Following that, units can move to market rates.

Wednesday, one day before the zoning hearing, the developer offered another concession: to cut back on the density of the project and to limit the height of the tallest structures.  

Many community members and activists want aldermen to delay the decision on Lincoln Yards until after a new city council and mayor are seated.

“They’re trying to rush everything. It’s undemocratic. There’s no reason to rush it. If it’s really that good, let the next mayor decide,” said teacher Tom Lalagos at the Cappleman protest.

Hopkins said voters elect aldermen and the mayor to four-year terms. “It doesn’t expire at three years and 11 months,” he said. He noted the master plan for Lincoln Yards was first unveiled back in July.

“It has been scrutinized, revised, it has been subject to a rigorous and thorough public review process,” Hopkins said. Public push back has modified the plan-- there’s no longer a stadium, for instance, there’s more park space, and now there’s more affordable housing on-site.

“It’s ready to go. We think we have the votes to pass it, so we’re now going to move forward.”

Protests are planned at Thursday’s zoning committee hearing.

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