The third time did not prove to be the charm for a proposal to build 297 apartments near O’Hare Airport.
The City Council’s Zoning Committee voted 11-2 Tuesday to table the proposal from Glenstar for seven months until February 2022, declining to follow the city’s normal rules and send the proposal for vacant land near Higgins Road and Cumberland Avenue to the Chicago Plan Commission for consideration at the request of Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st Ward).
The committee's vote could kill the plan, since city rules consider a proposal for a planned development to have been rejected if the City Council does not act on it within six months.
That vote — which Zoning Committee Chair Ald. Tom Tunney (44th Ward) said was unprecedented — was a clear victory for aldermanic prerogative, the largely unwritten, decades-old practice giving aldermen a veto over ward issues that is woven throughout the hundreds of pages of the city’s zoning code and strengthened by the willingness of alderpeople to defer to their colleagues on ward-level issued.
The committee’s decision to table the proposal until it is rejected could trigger a lawsuit, Tunney said. He and Ald. Maria Hadden (49th Ward) voted against tabling the plan to build the apartment complex at 8535 W. Higgins Road amid a cluster of hotels and office mid-rises along the Kennedy Expressway and steps away from the CTA Blue Line.
The Zoning Committee rejected a previous version of the apartment complex in 2018, siding with Napolitano, who said the residential development was too dense and not appropriate for the commercial corridor that separates Chicago from suburban Park Ridge.
Glenstar sued the city over the rejection, alleging that Napolitano’s opposition was motivated by a reluctance to allow 30 units in the development — which the firm planned to market as a luxury apartment complex — to be set aside for low- and moderate-income Chicagoans.
“I didn’t support it then and I don’t support it now,” Napolitano said Tuesday.
Glenstar dropped the lawsuit in 2019, telling city officials that they planned to build an office complex as originally allowed by city officials.
Peter Friedman, Glenstar's attorney, said the firm would continue to make its case to city officials despite the vote of the Zoning Committee that the development would help address rising demand for affordable housing in Chicago.
"This high quality residential development will serve O’Hare area workers and the growing number of young professionals who either desire easy access to transit or those who choose not to commute downtown,” Friedman said. "This project represents a $90 million dollar investment in this community.”
Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward) said he did not appreciate Glenstar’s decision to reintroduce the proposal while knowing that Napolitano still opposed it.
“It is highly irregular that the developer would take a third shot,” Reilly said, adding that he wondered whether Glenstar officials thought they could “ram it through” the City Council. “This is not a sign of good things to come. This could be the new ‘new.’”
The committee vote is another blow to Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s languishing efforts to end aldermanic prerogative, which she promised to uproot during the 2019 mayoral campaign as part of her anti-corruption efforts.
Lightfoot, whose first act as mayor was to issue an executive order rolling back aldermanic prerogative when it comes to licenses and permits has yet to make good on promises changes to the city’s zoning code — which would strike at the heart of aldermanic power over developments.
Critics say the city’s tradition of giving aldermen the final say over housing developments in their wards has created a hyper-segregated city rife with racism and gentrification, with little to no affordable housing in wealthy parts of the city, like the 41st Ward.