Lincoln Yards back on City Council’s front burner amid affordable housing negotiations

After vowing to delay the Sterling Bay project until more affordable units were added, Zoning Committee Chairman Cappleman is signaling it could be ready for a vote

From left: Alderman James Cappleman (46th), Alderman Brian Hopkins (2nd), and a Lincoln Yards rendering (Credit: Facebook)
From left: Alderman James Cappleman (46th), Alderman Brian Hopkins (2nd), and a Lincoln Yards rendering (Credit: Facebook)

The City Council Zoning Committee is set to hold a special meeting next week to hear Sterling Bay’s proposal for the 54-acre Lincoln Yards development, raising the massive project’s prospects for approval before a new city administration takes over in May.

After a heated six-month community review process, the $6 billion plan to build 6,000 homes and 1.3 million square feet of office space looked destined for approval last month when Alderman Brian Hopkins (2nd), whose ward includes the entire site, gave it his blessing.

But then about a dozen council members, including neighboring Aldermen Scott Waguespack (32nd) and Michele Smith (43rd), came out in opposition to the proposal, citing the need for more public scrutiny.

When Alderman James Cappleman (46th) assumed control of the Zoning Committee after the Jan. 29 resignation of Alderman Danny Solis (25th), the Uptown alderman said he would not schedule a vote on Lincoln Yards until Sterling Bay ironed out plans for more affordable units near the site.

Sterling Bay’s two-part master plan for the riverfront industrial site was approved last month by the Chicago Plan Commission, but it must be approved by the zoning committee and then the full City Council in order to take effect.

Tressa Feher, Cappleman’s chief of staff, said Sterling Bay and Hopkins are “making good progress” in negotiations aimed at winning over the aldermen who oppose the plan. She added Sterling Bay has agreed to boost the number of affordable units in the site plan, but did not say by how much.

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“The developer and Alderman Hopkins have been working with the aldermen who have been a ‘no’ on this, and they’ve gotten far enough that they wanted to request a meeting before the next City Council meeting,” Feher said.

She added if the developer and aldermen don’t come to an agreement by the March 7 meeting, Cappleman can always postpone it.

Hopkins confirmed that negotiations are underway to add more on-site affordable units to the plan, but that “the affordable housing community has already won, no matter what the final number ends up being.”

The number of affordable units included in the plan — the minimum required under the city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance — will “vastly exceed anything that’s been built since the ordinance went into effect,” Hopkins said.

A spokesperson for Sterling Bay did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

Under the plan approved by the Plan Commission last month, Sterling Bay would charge reduced rents on 300 of the 6,000 planned units on the site. The developer would provide for another 600 units in the surrounding area, and would pay an additional $39 million into the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

Earlier this month, a city commission voted to recommend creating a tax increment financing district around the Lincoln Yards site that would raise up to $1.3 billion to pay for public infrastructure during the next 23 years.