Chicago’s long-standing tradition of Aldermanic privilege just took a hit.
The Chicago City Council approved plans for a $91 million apartment complex near O’Hare International Airport, despite opposition to the project by Anthony Napolitano, the alderman representing that ward, Crain’s Chicago Business reported.
Developer GlenStar plans to develop a 297-unit apartment complex at 8535 West Higgins Road with 59 of those units being designated as affordable housing. Napolitano has been trying to block GlenStar’s plans since a similar project was proposed in 2017, arguing that his constituents were concerned about the stress on public resources that higher density housing would cause.
Several other aldermen supported the project and said the need for affordable housing in the city outweighed Napolitano and his constituents’ concerns.
“We need projects like this all over the city; we need to break precedent sometimes,” Maria Hadden, alderman for the 49th ward, said during the meeting. While the approval “breaks precedent and decorum in how the city has done things,” she said, “we do need to all work together to solve our bigger problems. We have an affordable housing crisis, we have a housing crisis in general, and we need to walk the walk as well as we talk the talk.”
The four-year-long back-and-forth between GlenStar and the city on this project has been contentious. After the zoning committee rejected its initial proposal in 2017, GlenStar sued the city, claiming that the city council violated the developer’s right to due process. Before ultimately dropping the suit in 2019, GlenStar claimed that Napolitano was “stonewalling” the project because he didn’t want the lower-income units in his ward.
After dropping the suit, GlenStar said it would try to build an office project on the site instead. However, the developer revisited the residential plan in May with hopes that the need for affordable housing in the city would win over many city leaders.
Napolitano continued to argue against the project and said that the approval of something in someone else’s ward against their wishes was “a complete overstep of our office.”
“Today it’s a commercial [property] that’s being forced into being changed into residential. Tomorrow may be residential to manufacturing in your ward,” Napolitano said at the meeting. “Today I’m sitting in the hot seat. And you may like me, you may hate me — but your decision will definitely reflect the precedent when you are sitting on the hot seat tomorrow. . . .You may be the next person that has to deal with it.”
The latest decision from the city council comes at the same time as a federal inspection of aldermanic privilege in Chicago. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is investigating claims that the practice may be contributing to discrimination against low-income minorities.
[CT] — Victoria Pruitt