• Alex Nitkin
    AUG 20, 2020

    Lightfoot to pitch first citywide plan in decades as ‘guiding vision’ for post-pandemic development

    City planning officials are lining up the “We Will Chicago” plan for final adoption in late 2022.

    Chicago planning officials under Mayor Lori Lightfoot will formally kick off a multi-year process on Thursday to create a centralized plan intended to guide the city’s construction, transportation and greening priorities for decades to come.

    Leaders of the Department of Planning Development are scheduled to open Thursday’s meeting of the Chicago Plan Commission by giving a presentation on the “We Will Chicago” plan, a long-range document envisioned as a “framework to justify and guide future budgeting, policy, and development decisions citywide.”

    The ambitious effort puts into practice a recommendation of the city’s Covid-19 Recovery Task Force, whose 104-page report last month included a pitch for “We Will Chicago,” saying the plan would “address systemic, social, and economic inequities that diminish Chicago’s viability as a global city.”

    Related: Recovery task force takes Chicago through 2023 in attempt to heal legacy racial disparities

    “It will encompass all elements of citywide planning – everything from additional green space to regional transit priorities such as western access to O'Hare Airport,” according to the  report.

    City planning officials will lay out a rough timeline for developing the plan, starting with virtual public meetings to solicit broad input, according to a presentation set to be given to the commission on Thursday. They envision publishing a draft in late 2021 so that the City Council may adopt a final version by the end of 2022.

    The planning department’s ultimate goal will be to “create a document that the average resident recognizes as a guiding vision for the city’s future,” one presentation slide reads. It adds that the plan will “inform priorities for government programs and projects.”

    The effort would follow in the footsteps of multiple citywide plans that shaped Chicago throughout the 20th Century, from Daniel Burnham’s seminal Plan of Chicago in 1909 through the so-called urban renewal plans of the 1950s and 60s. The last major citywide plan cited in the presentation was the 1984 “Chicago Works Together” plan developed under Mayor Harold Washington.

    The 1984 plan left a lasting impact on the city, but “the era of great planning went into a period of dormancy” after Washington’s death in 1987, according to DePaul University professor Joseph Schwieterman, who has written multiple books on the history of Chicago’s centralized planning.

    Former Mayor Richard M. “Daley was always skeptical of plans, and his successor Rahm [Emanuel] certainly wasn’t a dealmaker at heart,” Schwieterman said. “It's exciting that now the mayor appears willing to forge a vision for the distant future without simply being absorbed in present-day problems.”

    The triple-punch of the pandemic, economic peril and racial unrest will pose major obstacles to passing and implementing such a sweeping plan, but Schwieterman also predicted that the crisis could give “momentum” to the city’s efforts to turn a new page.

    “There's never a good time to start a comprehensive plan in the city of Chicago, but by the time this plan is done, the pandemic will hopefully be a memory,” he said.

    Development proposals to be considered Thursday

    The plan commission is also scheduled to consider seven new development or rezoning proposals for specific sites around the city, the largest being a plan (O2020-3754) by Solomon Barket of Condor Partners to build a 12-story hotel building at 1528 N. Wells St. in the 27th Ward.

    Barket proposes to amend an existing Planned Development on the site in order to build a 203-key hotel with commercial space on the ground floor. The plan also calls to build four new single-family homes adjacent to the hotel building.

    The cost of the project is not included in a planned presentation set to be given on the proposal on Thursday, but the development is estimated to create 215 new permanent jobs.

    Commissioners will also hear a proposal (O2019-9350) from Bond Companies to build an eight-story, 113-unit residential building with ground-floor retail at 1140 West Erie St. in the 27th Ward. It is planned to include a mix of studio, 1-bedroom, 2-bedroom and 3-bedroom units.

    Because the development is proposed inside the city’s Near North Affordable Requirements Ordinance pilot zone, Bond is required to charge affordable rents on at least 20 percent of the units it builds. The developer plans to rent 23 apartments at reduced rates, most of which would be included in an off-site development.

    Construction of the project is estimated to cost $40 million, and the development will generate $600,000 in annual property taxes.

    The plan commission will also consider an update to the Halsted Triangle Plan developed by city planning officials. The area is bounded by Halsted Street, Division Street and North Avenue on the Near North Side.

    The commission is also scheduled to consider the following proposals on Thursday:

    O2020-3757 — An application by AMLI residential to add a hotel to its existing proposal for a 17-story mixed-use building with 318 residential units at 808 North Wells St. in the 27th Ward. The original proposal was approved by the City Council in January 2019.

    O2020-1913 — A proposal by Peoples Gas to build a two-story, 25,000-square-foot “operations building” with parking for 400 feet vehicles at 38 W. 64th St. in the 20th Ward.

      • A proposal by Urban Kayaks to build a “kayak rental and storage facility, café, fitness area and public restrooms” along the Chicago Riverwalk between Columbus Drive and Lake Shore Drive in the 42nd Ward.

    O2020-2412 — A proposal by the North Lawndale Employment Network to build five apiaries on the roof of an existing building at 1111 S. Homan Ave. in the 24th Ward to “collect and package honey…as a part of its job training program.”

    O2020-3907 — A request by Ald. Derrick Curtis (18) to remove an approximately 37,000-square-foot parcel at the corner of 87th St. and Kedzie Ave. from a surrounding Planned Development.

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