A divided City Council Zoning Committee on Tuesday shot down a developer’s proposal to build a seven-story, 297-unit luxury apartment complex near the CTA’s Cumberland Blue Line station after an emotional debate about affordable housing.
Last year, the Zoning Committee shelved the M-shaped building at 8535 W. Higgins Road at the behest of local Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st).
That preserved aldermanic prerogative that gives aldermen iron-fisted control over zoning in their wards.
A lawsuit was filed to force the issue, setting the stage for Tuesday’s vote on the project that includes 30 units set aside for low- and moderate-income Chicagoans, as required by the city’s affordable housing ordinance.
After a racially charged debate, the Zoning Committee rejected the development by a rare 7-to-5 vote.
No votes were cast by Aldermen: Michelle Harris (8th); Ray Lopez (15th); Matt O’Shea (19th); Marge Laurino (39th); Brendan Reilly (42nd); Tom Tunney (44th) and Zoning Committee Chairman Danny Solis (25th).
Voting in favor of the project were Aldermen: Proco Joe Moreno (1st); Toni Foulkes (16th); Deb Mell (33rd); James Cappleman (46th) and Ameya Pawar (47th).
Prior to the final vote, Napolitano defended himself against a barrage of allegations that he had used trumped up-fears of school overcrowding as excuses to block affordable housing in the Northwest Side ward adjacent to O’Hare Airport, where he has lived for 43 years.
“I strongly oppose the development at 8535 W. Higgins. My objection is based on very serious concerns with the local schools that are extremely overcrowded that many of you want to dismiss,” Napolitano said.
“The neighborhood school that would accommodate the children in this building is Dirksen elementary. Dirksen’s original building has capacity for 510 students. CPS has placed mobile units on the site, bringing the capacity to 780. Enrollment at Dirksen over the past three years has grown from 858 to 926. My mobile units hold 780. Dirksen is grossly overcrowded with no room for additional mobiles and there is not a CPS plan anywhere in sight of relief.”
Napolitano noted that Taft High School, which would accommodate teenagers living in the new building, has an enrollment that has grown from 3,212 to 3,372 students over the last three years.
“Dirksen and Taft cannot handle one more student,” he said.
Napolitano noted that the area of the 41st Ward the new development is “not a single-family home neighborhood. … That’s a lie.”
“The concerns of my constituents have nothing to do with fear of change. The area is inundated with large apartment buildings and a majority of density,” he said.
“I have 6,503 apartments, a bulk of them open with vacancies for rentals, a bulk of them being rented at below-market rates. A bulk of them dying for people to come in and rent them. The units are there. … This area probably has one of the greatest areas of people from all walks of the world that live there but none of you want to admit that.”
Napolitano said he is “not against” affordable housing and, “I find it insulting” that critics claim he is.
He noted that the developer’s original proposals did not include affordable housing.
“They proposed to purchase out of affordable housing. The first time it was ever even brought up was at Planning and Development when they knew I was still against their project and the reason that was done was in hopes that you would see it as affordable housing — not as 300 apartments and as density,” he said.
“Now, because I oppose the development based on its density and impact on our schools GlenStar O’Hare LLC wants to change his proposal and the ordinance in hopes to gain your support. That’s very disingenuous to me.”
Napolitano had his say, but not before getting a tongue-lashing from protesters, including Etta Davis.
Davis said she was “about to burst” while listening to people “come up with all kinds of excuses about why there should not be affordable housing on the North Side.”
“Well, I live on the South Side and we’ve had all kinds of school closings and we adjusted. The same way we adjusted on the South Side, the people on the North Side can make adjustments as well,” Davis said.
“We need aldermen with backbones and b—s to be able to stand up for their poor people as well as the well-to-do people. … For those aldermen of you who don’t have the backbone and the b—s to represent your people, they should vote you out.”