Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Tuesday April 23rd, 2013, 5:33pm

Uptown Residents Decry Proposed $220 Million Luxury Housing Development At 46th Ward Zoning Meeting

Opponents of a planned $220 million luxury residential building in Uptown were ignored and not permitted to ask the 46th Ward’s Zoning and Development Committee questions about the project at its meeting Monday night.

Members of the advisory committee, put in place by Ald. James Cappleman (46th), adjourned its monthly meeting at Weiss Memorial Hospital despite multiple people who had waited patiently with their hands raised to comment on the plan, which calls for 842 mostly high-income units.

“We are totally opposed to this plan,” Marc Kaplan of Northside Action for Justice shouted as some committee members quickly filed past him out of the the hospital’s auditorium.

Tom Tresser, co-founder of the CivicLab, said he hoped the committee members would have revisited its February decision to sign off on JDL Development’s request for $32 million in tax increment financing, or TIF, assistance for the 35-story living complex planned for the former Columbus Maryville Academy site near the city's lakefront. The facility was an emergency resource center that housed women undergoing substance abuse rehabilitation and admitted their children to the Maryville Academy.

About $6 million of the requested TIF money would be used for renovating the nearby crumbling Clarendon Park field house, but it’s unclear how the remaining money JDL is seeking would be spent. The proposed project is located in the Montrose/Clarendon TIF district.

Tresser added that the “breathtaking” decision to give a private developer millions in public money seemed “not really able to be interrogated.”

The plan, which has also come under fire from low-income housing advocates in the area, would require the developer to set aside 20 percent of the units for affordable housing if TIF money is being used.

At its February meeting, the committee recommended that 10 percent of the units in the development be designated for affordable housing, meaning a household earning 60 percent of the median income could afford it. To fulfill the remaining 10 percent requirement, the developer would pay a $100,000 fee per unit not set aside as affordable to the Low Income Housing Trust Fund.

“This proposal would essentially eliminate literally hundreds of units that people who are being thrown out of SROs throughout the city could be moved in to because it’s a hospital, so they all have rooms, they all have plumbing,” said Uptown People’s Law Center Executive Director Belinda Belcher before the meeting. “It would not take as much money to repair it as to level it.”

She said “nobody who has lived here for many, many years could ever possibly afford” a unit in the proposed building.

A one-bedroom, affordable unit is expected to cost about $1,200 per month, "beyond what a great majority of residents can afford," Kaplan said.

He added that broadcasting his concerns to the committee members as they left was “more public comment than usually happens at these meetings.” He said, in general, the committee does not allow for public participation among non-members at its meetings.

“We oppose the plan, but we also oppose the process, because it’s a hand-picked committee,” Kaplan told Progress Illinois just after the meeting. “I mean look around. Does this represent the diversity of the 46th Ward? It definitely doesn’t”

Kaplan raised concerns about the proposed TIF money being diverted from local parks, schools and other services and awarded to a for-profit developer.

The tax money would be better spent going to the Chicago Public Schools that way it could help close the district's looming $1 billion budget deficit and save neighborhood schools from closing, he said.

In a statement before the meeting, members of the Northside Action for Justice said 77 percent of Uptown voters voted 'yes' in the March 2012 primary election on a referendum calling for TIF funds to be reinvested back into public schools and other units of government. The non-binding referendum also called for future TIFs to fund positive economic development, such as affordable housing and living wage jobs.

Brian Nelson, another opponent of the project, wondered out loud before the meeting if he’d get one of the units in the building, because his property tax dollars would help pay for it.

“You have this prime real estate,” said Nelson, prisoner rights coordinator with the Uptown People’s Law Center. “Why are you asking the city taxpayers to give you millions of dollars when it’s a for-profit building? You’re not going to have any low-income housing in there, you’re not going to allow any Section 8 in there, but you want this prime real estate on Lake Shore Drive to be funded partially by the city and taxpayers.”

Cappleman said in remarks after the meeting that the project is being reviewed by the city’s Housing and Economic Development Department in order to provide feedback to the committee.

He said it’s not yet known when the committee will take an advisory vote on the final project. Cappleman is expected to weigh in on the project after the committee votes before it would be sent to the city for approval.

Uptown residents with concerns about the project should contact their representative on the ward's Zoning and Development Committee, Cappleman added. A few of those specific individuals are listed here on Cappleman’s website.

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