An undeveloped 62-acre site at Roosevelt Road and Clark Street that has become known as The 78.

A massive project planned for a 62-acre site at Roosevelt Road and Clark Street is slated for hundreds of millions in tax-increment financing money. It’s set for City Council approval on Wednesday, as is another mega-project, Lincoln Yards. Both votes were put on hold at the request of Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, but it’s an open question if that gesture will allow Lightfoot to address her concerns. | Provided photo

Provided photo

City Council tackles affordable housing, grants zoning approval for ‘The 78’

The City Council on Wednesday closed out 2018 by approving a new five-year affordable housing plan, a new strategy to stop gentrification in Pilsen and Little Village, and by granting zoning approval for a South Loop project so massive, it would literally create Chicago’s 78th neighborhood.

The $7 billion project known as “The 78” is a 62-acre site at Roosevelt Road and Clark Street once owned by convicted felon Tony Rezko, where Gov. Bruce Rauner dreams of building an innovation center led by the University of Illinois.

At the request of developer Related Midwest, aldermen agreed to rezone the 62 acres to allow construction of as many as 10,000 residential units.

To unlock that development potential, the massive site along the Chicago River between the South Loop and Chinatown still needs $500 million worth of infrastructure improvements bankrolled by a new tax-increment-financing district.

Key improvements include a new CTA Red Line station, realignment of Metra tracks that run through the site and “hold it back by isolating Clark Street,” construction of a new bridge at Taylor Street to open a “different path across the river,” improvements to 15th and Clark streets and completion of the Wells-Wentworth connector.

If the TIF is ultimately created — and it’s tied up in a larger debate about TIF reform — developers would be required to set aside 2,000 units for low- and moderate-income Chicagoans.

Related Midwest has agreed to set aside 500 units on site as affordable and pay a $91.3 million fee to the city’s Affordable Housing Opportunity Fund to avoid building another 500 on-site units.

Of the 1,000 remaining units, 500 must be built in Pilsen and Little Village. The remaining 500 units must be built within two miles of the project.

That requirement will help fuel the creation of affordable housing in the rapidly gentrifying Pilsen and Little Village area.

The five-year, $1.4 billion affordable-housing plan has been criticized as inadequate because the 40,000 residential units it is designed to create don’t represent an increase.

Aldermen also approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to stop gentrification and preserve the character and affordability of Pilsen and Little Village.

It calls for strengthening affordability requirements for market-rate residential developments, preventing residents from being pushed out by gentrification and creating a landmark district to preserve the area’s signature architecture.

Yet another piece of the puzzle revolves around completing the rails-to-trails project known as the Paseo — from 16th Street in Pilsen to 31st Street in Little Village.

An ordinance authorizing the City Council to acquire four miles of the route from the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad was also approved Wednesday.

In other news at Wednesday’s City Council meeting:

•Aldermen approved a new five-year contract with Teamsters Local 700 representing 5,000 city workers. The terms are virtually identical to the deal struck with members of the building trades and with AFSCME Council 31. It includes a 10.5 percent pay raise over five years.

Employees will have to start paying health insurance premiums of 2.79 percent by 2020, with deductions on wages up to $130,000, according to the proposed deal.

•Emanuel introduced an ordinance that would give the city’s Department of Public Health broad subpoena power to enforce food-safety laws and investigate outbreaks of infectious diseases.

“Technology has made it easier than ever to order food, make restaurant reservations, get a ride or arrange a date. These changes pose new challenges for public health investigators, who often must obtain information from third-party apps to find people exposed to an illness,” the mayor’s office said in a statement.

“The measure would explicitly allow the department to secure data that would identify the sources of outbreaks and contact individuals who may have been exposed to life-threatening diseases such as E. coli and meningitis. CDPH would more clearly be able to subpoena information needed to protect residents in an emergency.”

•Emanuel joined Aldermen Brendan Reilly and Sophia King in championing an ordinance that requires contractors to use proper safeguards when digging in Streeterville or at the old Michael Reese hospital site, where radioactive elements have been found under the surface. There have been no reports of illness in recent years. But, the city wants to prevent that from happening in the future.

•Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) and others demanded City Council hearings on a plan to improve maintenance of the downtown pedway system.

•Aldermen Edward Burke (14th) and Tom Tunney (44th) joined forces on an ordinance that would declare cyberbullying as a hate crime.

•After a rash of sexual attacks and robberies in Chicago and across the nation, Burke and Transportation Committee Chairman Anthony Beale (9th) proposed that fines and prison time for anyone convicted of impersonating a ride-hailing driver.

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