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Chicago Plan Commission backs downtown, Goose Island projects

The panel also approves other proposals that would create multifamily buildings amid debate about affordability levels.

A rendering shows a planned 405-room hotel (left) and a 777-unit housing tower at 525 S. Wabash Ave. The complex wraps around an existing athletic center for Roosevelt University.
A rendering shows a planned 405-room hotel (left) and a 777-unit housing tower at 525 S. Wabash Ave. The complex wraps around an existing athletic center for Roosevelt University.
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The city of Chicago’s planning agency signed off Thursday on development that would bring to downtown four new high-rises representing a $700 million investment.

The Chicago Plan Commission also approved a five-tower project that could come over many years on Goose Island, long an industrial enclave.

The commission, plowing through an unusually long agenda that featured arguments about affordable housing, approved a two-tower proposal for a hotel and residences at 525 S. Wabash Ave. The buildings, to be connected by retail space including a food store, would replace a parking garage and a surface parking lot.

The agency, which reviews major zoning proposals before they get to the Chicago City Council, also backed two residential towers totaling 1,053 units at 601 W. Monroe St., currently a parking lot.

The Wabash project, across Ida B. Wells Parkway from the Auditorium Theatre, is a plan from Northfield’s Interforum Holdings. It calls for 777 residential units, and the developer plans to meet requirements for 78 affordable units as defined by city ordinance by providing them on-site.

For the Monroe towers, developer Pacific Reach Properties plans buildings of 47 and 40 stories. Their 105 affordable units include 26 on-site, with Pacific Reach providing money to build the rest at other locations. It has promised improvements to adjacent Heritage Green Park.

The Goose Island project is at its south end, at 901 N. Halsted St. The proposal from Onni Group calls for a maximum of 2,650 homes and 300 hotel rooms, with a projected investment of $1.3 billion over 20 years. The tallest building would be 691 feet, according to a developer presentation.

The site is now a maintenance center for Greyhound buses.

With commercial space, a park and a river walk, the “Halsted Pointe” project would have 530 residences deemed to be affordable under city ordinance. All of the affordable units would be built on-site.

A rendering shows the outlines of buildings planned for the southern end of Goose Island.
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Those projects, while substantial, were relatively uncontroversial. More public testimony, pro and con, came over another development that was approved, the redevelopment of the former Sears store in at the northeast corner of Irving Park Road and Cicero Avenue in Portage Park. The plan for 207 residences calls for 21 affordable units, only six of which would be built on-site.

Advocates for more affordability told the commission the setaside was inadequate. But Portage Park’s alderman, Jim Gardiner (45th), said the project is needed to improve the shopping district. Demanding more from the property owner, Novak Construction, is irresponsible, Gardiner said. “Our community cannot afford to risk playing a high-stakes poker game in an attempt to perfect this development,” he said.

Critics of the project said Novak and Gardiner are rushing the project through to avoid more stringent affordability requirements when a new ordinance takes effect Oct. 1. Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara, while not opposing the project, said Novak would be required to provide 41 affordable units had the new ordinance taken effect.

Jake Paschen, Novak’s executive vice president, said his firm wanted to demolish the old Sears in favor of a one-story retail plaza. But the area wanted the building saved and the plan as presented makes the most economic sense, he said.

Affordability also was at issue when the commission discussed and approved a Glenstar Properties plan for a seven-story, 297-unit apartment building with 270 parking spaces at 8535 W. Higgins Road, near O’Hare Airport. Twenty percent of the units would be rated affordable to make the project appeal to airport or hotel workers.

In a break from usual practice, the panel approved the project despite opposition from the local alderman, Anthony Napolitano (41st). He said he was against the project because it was too dense for his ward of primarily single-family homes.

Most people in his ward are opposed to the project, Napolitano said. His stance means the project could prompt a showdown in the City Council over “aldermanic privilege,” council members’ longstanding control over zoning in their wards.

A rendering of a two-tower project at 601 W. Monroe St., immediately south of Presidential Towers.
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