Sterling Bay’s high-rise apartment project tests aldermanic privilege

Alderman pushes back as Mayor Johnson wishes to streamline development process

Sterling Bay’s Resi Project Advances Despite Alderman’s Pushback

A photo illustration of Alderman Scott Waguespack and Sterling Bay’s Andy Gloor along with a rendering of the planned apartments at 1840 North Marcey (Getty, Ward 32, Sterling Bay, LinkedIn)

Sterling Bay’s proposed two-tower multifamily development will pit the long-standing practice of aldermanic privilege in Chicago against Mayor Brandon Johnson’s desire to streamline the development approval process. 

City officials are advancing Sterling Bay’s plan to build 615 apartments on the former industrial site at 1840 North Marcey Street, along the north branch of the Chicago River and near the developer’s $6 billion Lincoln Yards project, Crain’s reported

The project’s advancement through the zoning approval process comes despite opposition from  Ald. Scott Waguespack, whose 32nd Ward encompasses the site. Waguespack could ultimately throw a wrench in Sterling Bay’s plans due to aldermanic privelege — a practice in which council members ultimately have the final say over developments in their respective wards.

Opposition from Waguespack could test how far Johnson is willing to go to expedite the arduous approval process that’s long been a gripe among developers in Chicago. Since taking office last year, Johnson hasn’t shown an inclination to override local aldermen’s decisions.

Waguespack is against the development due to concerns over height — one of the buildings would rise 25 stories — and the inclusion of 275 parking spaces, arguing that it will exacerbate congestion and set a precedent for high-rise development in the area.

“As soon as all the other property owners say, ‘Hey, I can do [25 stories],’ you’re just going to have a wall along the river that is essentially not what anybody asked for,” he said. 

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Despite his resistance, the project is scheduled for review by the Plan Commission this week. If approved, it would go through the Zoning Committee and then City Council for final approval. 

Waguespack has been lobbied by planning commissioner Ciere Boatright and her deputies but remains firm in his stance. He supports development but prefers mid-rise buildings. He plans to voice his concerns at the Plan Commission meeting and will urge his colleagues to reject the project if it reaches the Zoning Committee.

Sterling Bay previously revised the project in response to community feedback, reducing the height by 70 feet and decreasing the number of parking spaces by 85. The developer has also committed to providing all 124 required affordable units on-site, contingent on the City Council designating the site as a “Low Affordability Community,” which would grant significant property tax breaks.

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Sterling Bay's Andy Gloor with 1840 North Marcey Street
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The project has support from the North Branch Works industrial group and the Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce, although local neighborhood associations remain opposed. Sterling Bay argues that the development aligns with the city’s 2017 North Branch Corridor framework and will bring additional benefits, including fees exceeding $4.7 million for converting former industrial properties and increasing site density.

The proposal coincides with Sterling Bay’s broader efforts to advance the Lincoln Yards megadevelopment, which was approved in 2019 and later fell within Waguespack’s ward due to redistricting. Sterling Bay is seeking financing to help get the project off the ground. 

—Quinn Donoghue 

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