Lincoln Yards Statement

LINCOLN YARDS Zoning Committee Statement

Alderman Michele Smith

The argument for delaying the rush on Lincoln Yards is simple – we cannot conduct the people’s business in anything less than an honest way.

Getting Lincoln Yards done right is good business.

The plan for the largest development in the city’s history is barely 30 days old and no public meeting has been allowed.

Let us be clear –the concessions that have been made are no concessions at all. 300 more affordable units is just complying with the law requiring 10% affordable housing on site.

There has been no a large community meeting as promised. There has been no thoughtful scrutiny of traffic studies, property assessments, open space requirements and planning of resources such as schools and libraries. This chamber is filled with all the proof you need that public suspicion is high and sentiment is against this development.

For my colleagues who were not part of the Plan Commission, the argument that there has been “ample process” because of the North Branch Framework Guideline process- is a brain numbing circular argument. A framework is not a plan. No plans were ever shown in the framework.

In fact, confused and angry residents were told month after month during the framework “process”, they’d have “plenty of time” to see and review actual plans during the PD process. Now in the PD process, they are told the Framework somehow covered these freshly-minted plans.

Bottom line, the first time residents saw anything about a 52-acre Sterling Bay Lincoln Yard plan was a “concept” in July 2018 – less than six months ago. An actual master plan has been out barely one month.

There has not been one public meeting about the actual plan.

Yes, a questionable 20,000 seat stadium that was floated, was rejected. Fine print shows in exchange for shelving the stadium, the development added two new buildings and expanded three other buildings. They dropped the stadium and stuck in 3 MILLION additional square feet – an almost 25% increase in density.

Yesterday, once again through the press and not in a public meeting or an official document, we learned that height and overall density have been reduced. It went from a total density of 15 million square feet to 14.5 million square feet.

But again – let’s be clear about the facts, and cut through the spin. Instead of adding 3 million square feet, the developer now gets an increase of 2.5 million square feet by shaving off 5 stories. Instead of getting bigger by almost 25%, it gets bigger by almost 20%. That is not a reduction, that is not compromise – that is a fig leaf.

How big is this development? This development was 3.3 Willis Towers a month ago and now it is 3.2 Willis towers. Who says that is a win for honest compromise? So let’s not be confused – this development has gotten steadily bigger since its one time presentation to the community– not smaller.

Then we are told that Sterling Bay will build three bridges, not two. But let’s be clear who is footing the bill. Not Sterling Bay – but the public, in the form of a Billion-dollar TIF that in inextricably linked to this development.

We don’t have TIFs in Lincoln Park. We understand that we are among the wealthiest areas in the City – we pay our part in property taxes.

We support our new assessor Fritz Kaegi’s push for fairness and transparency in our neighborhood and across the city. My Ward questions this transaction for the same reason – we believe in transparency, and due deliberation of a transaction.

But every graphic, every visual the applicant has shown includes roads and bridges to be built on the public’s back courtesy of the largest TIF in history. What other huge mistake was not vetted? I don’t even have to name it.

We want economic development that keeps business, keep people in the city and on our tax rolls in the long term. What we don’t need is development that makes developers rich in the sprint and leaves families, taxpayers and workers holding the bag.

Where is the school, the library and the true public park on the North Branch of the river to balance this massive development? Where is the public benefit?

With a population planned here of at least 30,000 from Lincoln Yards alone, the North Branch Park Preserve becomes an even greater imperative.

We must plan for new residents and we must consider existing taxpaying residents. We need more than what amounts to a tiny privately owned space. Once again the facts – there are NOT 21 usable, reasonable and desirable acres of true open space – what we have is a developer afterthought that counts the river bottom, rooftops, patches and plazas between towers and concrete bike paths counted as greenspace. And no, there is no additional open space beyond one soccer field. Developers don’t have to plan parks for the public, we do.

I am baffled by the logic that a failure to approve the LY Planned Developments on March 7, 2019 and not a second later means that the City of Chicago is not “Open for Business.” A rush to approve anything is an expression of fear, not confidence. Some fear that our next Mayor doesn’t want to grow our economy and may not be friendly to business. I highly doubt it.

What I know is that railroading this is contrary to the people’s choice. Jamming this massive TIF through the tiny window of time running out is insulting to my constituents, to your constituents, to all our taxpayers, to our next City Council and to our next Mayor. You are saying no one can be trusted with time and the facts to make a good decision. You are arguing that transparency in government, smart zoning and good planning is somehow, dangerous.

Our community supports development of the North Branch Corridor, it does not support this plan and we are disgusted by this process. We want good projects, good jobs for our union workers and intelligent planning for our city.

You should want all of those things too. And, you should want something even more. You should want the respect and confidence of our citizens. You should want to demonstrate that we know this city hungers for reform. Instead of mistrusting our fellow Chicagoans, you should take a deep breath and earn their trust.

Give common sense and respectful public dialogue a chance. Prove we have confidence in our united future and our collective wisdom. Do not approve this plan today.