CITY HALL — The city's Plan Commission unanimously supported Lincoln Park's Children's Memorial redevelopment project Thursday after roughly four hours of testimony from neighbors.
The $350 million final plan will shape the future of the neighborhood and add two high-rises to a mostly residential area.
Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) brought the proposal before the city's Plan Commission Thursday afternoon along with developer Dan McCaffery, president of McCaffery Interests, with the hope the development will reinvigorate the neighborhood.
The project has been a hot topic in the neighborhood over the past 2 1/2 years as the six-acre site near the intersection of Halsted and Fullerton avenues has sat vacant.
An attorney representing McCaffery presented the Plan Commission with 3,200 signatures in support of the proposal and 177 individual letters.
He said of those signatures, 46 percent of the people live within four blocks of the site and 90 percent live within eight blocks of the site.
"We were asked to restore the economic vitality at this site and we believe we will," said architect Joe Antunovich.
Smith and McCaffery's proposal includes two 21-story high-rise apartment buildings, which have been the greatest point of concern for those who oppose the project.
Those buildings include a total of 540 apartments. The rest of the project includes a condominium with between 40 and 60 units and a 156-room senior living center.
The project will include more than 57,000 square feet of open space for the public spread over a central plaza and two garden areas.
The total retail space will be 105,000 square feet and will prohibit certain businesses such as taverns and marijuana dispensaries.
The current plan was a scaled back version of a 2012 proposal that called for a 27-story tower, a 19-story tower and a 14-story tower.
The 14-story tower was lowered to 11-stories in a proposal in January, and within the month was reduced to a five-floor health club.
Ten percent of the apartments would go toward affordable housing, a move which is uncommon for developments in the city.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has signaled his support for the plan, which is expected to create 2,500 temporary construction jobs and 250 permanent jobs.
Dozens of supporters and opponents of the project laid out their arguments to the Plan Commission in the City Council chambers for more than three hours Thursday.
The project would require a re-zoning of the site at the intersection of Halsted, Fullerton and Lincoln.
Those in favor argued that the project would revitalize the neighborhood and fill the void left by the hospital, its employees and its thousands of daily visitors.
Hospital visitors and staff frequented the businesses in the neighborhood and in their absence, many business owners argue they have seen a drastic drop in income.
"Children's Hospital used to have a lot of doctors [and] nurses, and not only did they live in that area, but they would come visit," said Matt Imig, owner of O'Malley's West Bar and Grill. "That has essentially dried up for us. It’s really a battle now.”
Imig said his business is down about 30 percent since Children's moved to its new Streeterville location.
Many of those who opposed the plan live within the immediate vicinity of the site and argued that the project would worsen traffic issues, set a precedent for high-rises in the neighborhood and change the character of the historic residential area.
Those neighbors who so strongly opposed the project were some of the same people who rallied around Smith to help her get elected for her first term.
Joy Wingren, who has been an outspoken opponent of the plan, said Smith "betrayed" the neighborhood residents who got her elected.
"She ran on the platform that she would never allow this," Wingren said.
Discussions surrounding the project have been ongoing since 2008 when initial studies began, and numerous community meetings have been held over the years leading up to Thursday's hearing.
Smith and the developer pointed to the largest community meeting in January attended by 688 people as a turning point that revealed a majority support for the project.
Of the neighborhood groups in Lincoln Park, the two nearest to the project, Mid-North Association and the Park West Community Association, released statements this week in strong opposition to the plan, while a number of the other groups including Lincoln Central, Sheffield Neighbors and the Wrightwood Neighbors support the plan.
"A plan for a property this large effects more than the closest neighbors," said Theodore Wrobleski, head of the Sheffield Neighborhood planning committee.
Smith held up the project for an 18 months while demanding that the city solve the overcrowding situation at Lincoln Elementary School, which ended in November with the announcement of a three-story annex for the school.
Multiple members of the Mid-North Association and immediate hospital have threatened to file a lawsuit if the plan moves forward.