Planning Commission Approves Phase 1 of Wolf Point Development Plan

By Lizzie Schiffman Tufano on January 24, 2013 6:25pm 

 Previews of the prospective development at Wolf Point, presented at an Oct. 29 community meeting. There have been several adjustments to the development plan since then as area residents and Ald. Brendan Reilly push for more area impact reviews and scaled-back occupancy expectations.
Previews of the prospective development at Wolf Point, presented at an Oct. 29 community meeting. There have been several adjustments to the development plan since then as area residents and Ald. Brendan Reilly push for more area impact reviews and scaled-back occupancy expectations.
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Wolf Point Owners, L.L.C.

CHICAGO — The Chicago Plan Commission unanimously voted to approve a proposed development at Wolf Point consisting of three towers of residential, commercial and hotel space.

The proposal had been batted between Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), the Chicago Department of Transportation, developers Hines Interests and property owners Wolf Point Owners for an "unprecedented" 14 months of review, Reilly said Thursday afternoon before encouraging the commission to move the proposal forward to the City Council.

"This project has been a test," said Reilly, who has represented the downtown district for six years. "With the support of CDOT [the Chicago Department of Transportation] and the Department of Housing and Economic Development, we've gotten this right."

Nine residents spoke out against the proposal. They demanded a reexamination of the traffic impact: previous meetings had led to developers eliminating car access to the property on Kinzie Street, and the addition of an extra southbound lane on Orleans Street.

They objected to a feature of the plan that would have a walkway hanging over the river and would be open to the public. After the Dec. 20 community meeting, Hines doubled the required amount of public greenspace on the entire property to offset the overhang. That gained the endorsement of Kim Rice, policy and planning manager for Friends of the Chicago River, one of five citizens who spoke in favor of the plan.

The residents also decried the risk of a "bottleneck" from tower residents and guests trying to access the two entry points to the property by car.

In the end, Reilly acknowledged the concerns of the small but vocal group of community members that fought the plan through each revision, but said he and the developers had done more than enough to accommodate residents' concerns.

"Nearly every aspect of the initial proposal has been significantly revised with community input," Reilly said.

The final plan approved Thursday included recent changes that will add a historic marker (and possibly a fountain) to the peak of the triangular property at the Chicago River's Y-shaped intersection, the addition of a public restaurant and patio in the 100,000 square feet of park-like greenspace, and public restrooms and elevators to enhance community access to the riverfront.

The developers will receive no city money to fund the greenspace development, or necessary infrastructure improvements that include the addition of traffic lights and parking spaces.

Residents weren't the only attendants to raise concerns with the proposal approved Thursday during the meeting in City Hall. Commissioner Doris B. Holleb proposed that developers — who had earlier unveiled a plan to reduce the number of available parking spaces to "encourage the use of public transit" — instead increase the number of parking spaces to meet the citywide standard.

Allan Mellis, a resident and member of the Chicago River Task Force, argued that the buildings should include affordable housing, or be required to contribute the standard percentage of the $1 billion project to the Affordable Housing Fund.

Mellis alleged that since the Planned Development in effect at Wolf Point was approved in 1973, the more recently passed Affordable Housing Ordinance has not been enforced.

These and more issues could be addressed when the proposal goes before the City Council's Zoning Committee, and again when Phases 2 and 3 — which cover the mixed-use and hotel towers on the west and south sides of the space — have to repeat this process and secure additional approvals.

But John Carpenter, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Chicago Chamber of Commerce, endorsed the project, which sits on some of the last undeveloped riverfront property in the Fulton River District.

"We believe that Wolf Point represents an economic development opportunity for Chicago that cannot be delayed," Carpenter said.

And for the first time in more than a year, plans to build on Wolf Point were met with no delays.

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