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Old Posted Mar 30, 2009, 5:27 PM
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An email I received:

Development in the South Loop is About to Change

By Enrique G. Perez


Change is in the air. The City of Chicago is considering implementing what is probably the most comprehensive and far reaching development action plan regarding the Central Area of Chicago in recent years. Termed the "Central Area Action Plan," the stated purpose of the Plan is to continue the implementation of the 2003 Central Area Plan. The Plan has been in the works for some 18 months, according to the Plan's web site, and its links are listed below. Some 30 business and civic leaders participated in the drafting the Plan, the same being acknowledged in the executive summary.

If approved, the plan will affect the Central Area of Chicago in terms of its economic development & land use, transportation, and urban design, waterfront & open space categories. The Plan will affect each of the 12 sub districts in the Central Area, which are Cabrini, Near North, River North, Streeterville, Near West, West Loop, Central Loop, South Loop, River South, South West Loop, Near South and Chinatown. These sub district areas encompass parts of the 2nd, 3rd, 25th, 27th, 42nd, and 43rd Wards.

To my knowledge, the above meeting on April 2 that is sponsored by 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly is the only community meeting planned on this all important topic, even though five other wards are affected. I can only hope that other community meetings are immediately scheduled.

A review of the attached documents will reveal some far reaching effects steming from the Plan. To start, the Plan outlines two separate scenarios for growth in the Central Area: a Base Case (less optimistic) and an Opportunity (more optimistic) scenario that could affect development and growth. The executive summary also refers to "annual development benchmarks established in the 2003 Plan [that] were met or exceeded since its publication." The Plan also lists the hope that the 2016 Olympics, if Chicago were to win them, would accelerate the growth benchmarks in the Central Area.

In the area of building heights, the Plan introduces the idea of "Conceptual Principles for Building Heights." Having read through some of the original community-specific plans that were established by the City in 2003, including the Near South Community Plan, this new "Conceptual" approach quite honestly appears to obliterate the height restrictions that were either stated or implied in those plans. For example, in the area of the South Loop bounded by Congress, Roosevelt Rd., the Chicago River, and Wabash, the designation used to describe the area in this new "Conceptual" approach is "Transition Zone," where "Tall and Mid-rise buildings" are allowed (See Chapter 3, Page 7 of the attachment). This contrasts with the Near South Community Plan, where the height limit guidelines are listed as being in accordance with the surrounding existing buildings (i.e. those that existed before some of the current crop of tall buildings were built that have had the effect of raising the average building heights of their respective areas). As a case in point, the Plan specifically states that an 80-story building has been "announced" for the Franklin Pointe area at the southwest corner of Congress and Wells (see Chapter 4, Page 6 of the attachment).

In the area of transportation, the Plan calls for the completion of the Taylor Street Bridge sometime in the 2012 to 2016 time frame at a cost of $50 Million (See Page 19 of the Executive Summary). Phase II of the Wells-Wentworth Connector is supposed to be completed in that time frame as well, with Phase I being done by 2012. As many of you might recall from community meetings of some years ago, Wells Street, which becomes Wentworth somewhere south of Roosevelt Rd., is supposed to become a major traffic arterial on par with State and Clark Streets. Also on the horizon according to the Plan, a second bridge across the Chicago River is supposed to be built at either Polk or 16th Streets sometime in the 2016 to 2020 time frame. All of this is on top of several CTA station modernizations that are also supposed to occur.

Specific to the South Loop under "2020 Visions/Goals," the Plan states that "The South Loop will continue its role as an expansion area for the concentration of high learning institutions..." From this, one can only surmise that the South Loop will continue to see an increase in the number of college students, as well as an increase in student housing. In terms of South Loop parking, the Plan seems to acknowledge that parking is a problem, which is something that any resident or visitor to the South Loop can easily attest to, by saying that "The parking policy in the South Loop merits review..." and that "Minimum parking ratios may not be creating enough spaces for visitors and business customers..." In a seemingly contradictory statement however, the Plan states that "Surface parking lots provide most of the opportunities for current and future infill development...," mentioning the parking lots at 901 S. State St. and 1001 S. State St. as future devel opment sites (See Chapter 4, page 14). These two statements beg the question as to whether the City of Chicago is going to actively encourage more development on the remaining parking lots in the South Loop.

Regarding Congress Parkway, the Plan calls for upgrading Congress to "accommodate high levels of pedestrian mobility while also maintaining its role as a key east/west vehicle arterial." The Plan predicts a "further increase in pedestrian traffic" due to "Development proposals for areas immediately south of Congress along the Chicago River." I just wonder if the Plan might once again be referring to the "announced" 80-story building at Franklin Pointe?

For the Near South Area (south of Roosevelt Rd. down to the Stevenson Expressway), the Plan is going to "Consider a new public school to serve growing number of households." My biggest concern in this regard is that the City will underestimate the amount of both elementary and high school capacity that will be needed in the South Loop/Near South side over the coming years. In the time that I have lived in the South Loop, the second fastest growing segment of the population (as I have perceived it) has been families with school-age children. This "pipeline" is now filled with a growing and possibly unsustainable demographic pressure, absent some quick near-term action by our elected officials. In short, more schools need to be built.

Additionally, the Plan also mentions other waterfront, open space, transportation, and urban-design improvements, such as improvements to the Chicago River waterway, Northerly island, and Grant Park, among many many others. The Plan is truly comprehensive in its scope, and detailed in many of its specifics. It will also be expensive to fulfill.

The greater point however is that the Central Area Action Plan is going to have major ramifications for all development in the 12 sub districts that comprise the Central Area, not just in the South Loop area. The meeting headlined above is a great start at informing the River North/Fulton River District community about something that will affect everything from property values to quality of life, so for this I would like to thank Alderman Reilly for getting the "ball rolling."

By extension, the question must now be asked: When are the other 11 sub districts going to have their community meetings to inform their residents of these community-altering changes that the Plan proposes. Furthermore, who is going to call these meetings? Logic dictates that the aldermen of the affected wards do so. The situation also dictates that they do so immediately.

At a bare minimum, the people have the right to know.



The Central Area Action Plan (DRAFT) Documents:


Central Area Action Plan Executive Summary
http://egov.cityofchicago.org/webpor...mm20090313.pdf


Chapter 1: Land Use
http://egov.cityofchicago.org/webpor...1_Land_Use.pdf

Chapter 2: Transportation
http://egov.cityofchicago.org/webpor..._Transport.pdf

Chapter 3: Design
http://egov.cityofchicago.org/webpor...t_3_Design.pdf

Chapter 4: North Sub Districts
http://egov.cityofchicago.org/webpor...bdistricts.pdf

Chapter 4: South Sub Districts
http://egov.cityofchicago.org/webpor...bdistricts.pdf

Chapter 4: Central Sub Districts
http://egov.cityofchicago.org/webpor...bdistricts.pdf
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