Councils created for local input on mega-developments

Community advisory councils will monitor progress of Lincoln Yards and The 78 in areas like public infrastructure design, open space and traffic control.

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A 2017 aerial view of the development site known as The 78.

A 2017 aerial view of the development site known as The 78.

Mark Segal/Related Midwest

Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the launch Thursday of community advisory councils to monitor progress of the mega-developments Lincoln Yards and The 78, projects in upscale areas that have drawn criticism for their reliance on public subsidies.

Lightfoot said the councils will be a conduit for local input on such matters as public infrastructure design, open space and traffic control. Volunteer members would be jointly appointed by her and the alderman handling each project — Brian Hopkins (2nd) for Lincoln Yards and Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) for The 78 — in consultation with the developers and others.

The councils would have no power to change zoning or terms of the city’s development agreements. But it would give the mayor and local organizations leverage as developers work through early designs and construction plans for a project liable to last years. It also would help the city monitor progress in minority hiring and affordable housing generated at each site.

The mayor’s office provided statements of support for the councils from each site’s developer, Sterling Bay for Lincoln Yards and Related Midwest for The 78. The two sites together are authorized to get up to $2.4 billion in tax increment financing subsidies, money drawn from growth in property taxes.

Discussing Lincoln Yards, Lightfoot said, “As I’ve made clear from the beginning, this project and others like it must utilize inclusive development, create new jobs for our residents and include public input at every step of the way.”

The 78’s council will “provide guidance, identify improvements and maximize economic opportunities for the community and the city at large as design and construction gets underway,” she said.

The Lincoln Yards council will get 14 members while The 78’s group will have 17. They would meet at least quarterly starting in early 2020. The city has invited people to apply for the councils, with information at Chicago.gov/lincolnyards and Chicago.gov/78.

As a candidate, Lightfoot opposed the subsidies, but she accepted them when her predecessor, Rahm Emanuel, pushed them through the City Council before leaving office.

Sterling Bay CEO Andy Gloor said the company welcomes the arrangement. “As a company born and raised right here in Chicago, and as local residents dedicated to improving the future of this city, the team at Sterling Bay is committed to making Lincoln Yards a community that’s reflective of all those who call Chicago home,” Gloor said.

Related Midwest President Curt Bailey said, “We understand the importance of community participation throughout the development process, which is why the Community Advisory Council presents an exciting opportunity to further our community dialogue.”

First Deputy Planning and Development Commissioner Eleanor Gorski said the councils will have an opportunity to shape the mega-projects. She said they are not about placating residents who opposed the record subsidies.

“This administration’s goal is to have more public input. We took to [Chicago] Plan Commission in September forward-looking guidelines where we would ask for this type of input at the beginning of a project and continue it through construction. …. So I would say it’s more of a cornerstone of the administration’s goal of public transparency than placating people,” Gorski said.

The city has posted charters for each council requiring some members be drawn from the affected areas while others provide backgrounds in topics such as housing or transportation. The councils are to serve for three years but can be extended by agreement with the mayor and aldermen.

Members and their spouses or partners cannot be city employees or investors in the developments.

Lincoln Yards is a projected $6 billion mixed-used development on 53 old industrial acres along the North Branch of the Chicago River. It foresees 14 million square feet of commercial and residential construction, some in high-rises, and including about 1,200 units of affordable housing.

The 78, so-called because it’s seen as the 78th and newest Chicago neighborhood, covers 62 acres southwest of Roosevelt Road and Clark Street, also along the river. Its plan calls for 13 million square feet, including a technology research center by the University of Illinois and a Red Line subway stop at 15th Street.

Hopkins said the council “will give residents the ability to offer valuable insights on a project that will benefit the entire city.” Sigcho-Lopez said the council builds on his use of advisory groups to provide input on other development issues.

Lightfoot has proposed new rules for large-scale developments that would mandate more public involvement. The Chicago Plan Commission could vote on the rules early next year.

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