CITY HALL — The Norfolk Southern rail yard expansion in Englewood cleared a key hurdle Thursday by gaining approval from the Chicago Plan Commission.
After what Commissioner Andrew Mooney, of the Department of Housing and Economic Development, acknowledged were "occasionally intense discussions over the last month," the body approved a zoning change to allow the rail yard expansion, given key concessions from the railroad company.
Among those, according to John Molloy of DHED, were green upgrades of trucks and cranes on the site, making up $1 million of $3 million committed to the environment and economic development in Englewood, along with the ceding of the 59th Street rail line to the city for a park development on the order of the Bloomingdale Trail.
Local activist Renault Robinson cheered the economic impact on the area, and John Paul Jones of Sustainable Englewood Initiatives also supported it thanks to the environmental commitments and the rail line park.
The South Side chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said it would be investigating complaints made by Blacks in Green, but otherwise the motion to change zoning within two Englewood Tax Increment Finance districts from residential to light industrial passed with little public opposition.
"We see this as a big, big game changer," said Ald. Willie Cochran, drawing attention to the 400 jobs at about $69,000 salaries to be added at the site, as well as the estimated $146 million in overall economic impact. "For me, this is a day to be very, very happy with the outcomes."
"It's important to our company," said Norfolk Southern Vice President Frederick Blair Wimbush. "It's a driver of success, economic success in this region."
He claimed the expansion was about meeting the needs of local business, and cited improvements in reducing greenhouse gases, even while using diesel fuel, and insisted rail overall was more beneficial to the environment than the comparable use of trucks in transportation.
"This is an extremely important project for the City of Chicago," Mooney said.
The 10-year, $200 million project will add 84 acres to make the rail yard 234 acres total, and will add 400 jobs to the 500 already on site at 361 W. 47th St.
The city signed off on selling 105 lots to the railroad for $1.1 million in April, and the company continues to work out final purchases of land in the designated area.
The Plan Commission vote was deferred last month so the final concessions could be worked out, and with those concessions it won passage without opposition.