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$14 Million TIF for Uptown Luxury Housing Draws Committee OK, Protests

By Adeshina Emmanuel | February 26, 2014 10:16am | Updated on February 26, 2014 10:35am
 A neighborhood committee voted in favor of the plan despite a protest at Ald. James Cappleman's office.
Uptown Divided on $14 Million TIF Subsidy for Luxury Housing Plan
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UPTOWN — Amid objections from some protesters, Ald. James Cappleman's development committee recommended Monday that a TIF plan be approved by the city, a move that could give millions in diverted tax dollars to the developer of a project at the vacant Maryville Academy campus.

The advisory vote on the $14 million tax increment financing money, which will be negotiated by the city, capped a day that saw protests at Cappleman's office and angry words exchanged at a community meeting where the vote was taken.

The proposed project at West Montrose and North Clarendon Avenues includes more than $200 million plan for luxury housing created by JDL Development, though 10 percent of the units would be designated as affordable housing.

Ahead of the vote by the 46th Ward Zoning and Development Committee, some objected to the project's inclusion in the Montrose/Clarendon Tax Increment Finance district.

Some 100 people attended the meeting at an auditorium at Weiss Memorial Hospital, 4646 N. Marine Drive. Earlier, about 30 to 40 protesters had marched on Cappleman's office at 4545 N. Broadway chanting "This is not the way to spend our money!" and "One-term alderman!"

At the protest, Mark Kaplan said, "The community believes JDL should not get a penny of TIF funds and, in fact, that money needs to go back to the schools, to the parks, to support programs in the community."

Critics oppose granting the $14 million TIF subsidy to a private developer in the aftermath of a record number of city school closings in 2013 and recent reductions of the ward's affordable housing stock.

The meeting was rife with debate, muttered retorts, snide remarks and heckling from both sides of the TIF debate.

TIFs divert a portion of property taxes to use for improvements in a designated area, a device critics contend amount to a subsidy for developers at the expense of local school funding and other community needs.

Before the vote by the committee, Cappleman chief of staff Tressa Feher said the $14 million subsidy wouldn't be given upfront to JDL and that the subsidy could be less, depending on revenue the project generates.

With the development, the idea is that more money will ultimately be generated for other public projects, she said. The TIF expires in 2034, Feher said.

The city and JDL still have to sign documents sealing the arrangement, she said. And the developer still has to pursue zoning and other approvals from the city.

Neighbors had hoped the dilapidated Clarendon Park field house would get rehabbed via a deal with the developer before the city shelved that option. Cappleman said the city didn't consult him when it decided to remove Clarendon Park from the development plan, which includes two towers with about 750 housing units, 26,000 square feet of retail space and a private park.

"I didn't like it, and I argued with the Department of Planning," he said.

Alyssa Berman-Cutler, a committee member and president of the economic development organization Uptown United, was looking for a guarantee that extra TIF revenue in the district would be tied to Clarendon Park improvements.

"We haven't gotten any traction with that," Feher said, citing talks with the city. "That's what we're going to keep pushing for."

The audience submitted questions and comments at the meeting, including suggestions of putting JDL's proposed $14 million subsidy toward social services or people displaced from low-income housing.

Feher said that the TIF district has to generate revenue before the subsidy is given, and the "$14 million doesn't exist yet."

The Maryville site, owned by a tax-exempt religious organization, doesn't contribute to the TIF district.

After the debate and discussion, the committee voted overwhelmingly to put its stamp of approval on the TIF subsidy, the demolition of Cuneo Memorial Hospital to enable the project, and the designation of 10 percent of the units as affordable housing.

Two of 26 committee members voted against the plan, including Uptown resident Jeffrey Littleton, a representative for community organizing group ONE: Northside. Littleton opposes a subsidy for JDL and supports reusing Cuneo.

Committee member Alise Glickman, who voted for the plan, said there's a lot of misinformation about how the subsidy works and that Clarendon Park has not been forgotten by the alderman.

"Some people need to be better informed, and the information is there for the asking," said Glickman, who represents the 4343 N. Clarendon high-rise building.

Uptown resident Angela Spinazze said she was "hugely disappointed" after the meeting, where there was "too much confusion over what is being discussed and what's being voted on."

"What I heard is that there's no guarantee that the money goes anywhere," she said. "What other funding sources are they pursuing to renovate the field house? They act as though this is the only pot of money, and I just don't believe it."