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Finkl Steel, Surrounding Properties Could Be Turned Into Homes, More: Ald.

By Mina Bloom | April 3, 2016 2:20pm | Updated on April 4, 2016 8:42am
 Finkl Steel Demolition
Finkl Steel Demolition
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LINCOLN PARK — The city is throwing its support behind an unprecedented plan to remove the Clybourn Corridor's industrial zoning designation, which means the longstanding industrial area, including the former Finkl Steel mill, will likely open up to residential, office and retail development.

It's welcome news for Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), the freshman alderman who has championed the plan.

"We just took a huge step forward with the city's support," Hopkins said. "It was a major obstacle and we just cleared it."

Hopkins said the city's Department of Planning will formally announce its support Monday morning for scrapping the industrial zoning.

If the City Council approves the measure, it would be the first time the city has ever removed a Planned Manufacturing District designation.

Reporter Mina Bloom on changes proposed to Clybourn Corridor.

In 1988, the Clybourn Corridor became the city's first such district. It includes 115 acres roughly bounded by Clybourn Avenue, the Chicago River, North and Southport avenues. Today, it's one of 15 other similar districts across the city.

The planned manufacturing district was originally created to protect high-paying industrial jobs and protect the area from pressure by developers. Although Finkl left the district, proponents of keeping the designation argue the district was a major reason why Finkl was able to grow to a point where it had to move.

Hopkins is confident the City Council will approve the change, which he called a "basic amendment to a zoning code," he said.

"We amend zoning designations all the time. At its core, that's what it is. No more and no less," Hopkins said. "It is more complicated because a [planned manufacturing district] has never been removed before. But that won't be an obstacle."

"With the support of the administration, with my full support as alderman, the process will not be an impediment to getting this done," he said.

But winning city support wasn't easy.

"For many years, planned manufacturing districts in Chicago have been sacred. They have been protected by city staff [and] protected by mayoral administration," Hopkins said. "You just don’t raise the issue of stripping the zoning designation. You knew the city would fiercely would oppose it."

Hopkins said when he first became alderman the city's former planning commissioner did not support the change.

"There was a lot of resistance initially," he said. "Under new leadership, there has been a change of philosophy."

If the plan wins City Council approval, the next step is for Hopkins, the community and local leaders to form a master plan that would address traffic concerns among other issues. Updating the Clybourn Metra stop, building a new bridge over the river and adding a CTA stop are just a few potential changes.

Hopkins said he envisions Clybourn Corridor as a mix of residential, retail and office properties combined with open, public space. 

"You don't have to limit it to one thing. There's so much room for all of the different uses that you can think of, including public open space," he said.

He'd like to see a riverwalk, new parks and developments with a "city within a city" feel. There's room for a tech campus and residential properties, he said. 

One type of development Hopkins doesn't want to see? Big-box retailers. 

"On the scale of things we need right now, that’s probably more toward the lower end," he said. "No one's clamoring for more retail."

Moving forward, the alderman will host a community meeting May 3 at DePaul University that will be co-hosted by graduate students in DePaul's urban studies program. More details will become available soon.

He said representatives from a key developer, Sterling Bay, will likely be at the meeting.

Sterling Bay has snatched up two industrial properties near Finkl, the former Gutmann leather tannery and the Lakin General tire recycling factory. C.H. Robinson, a logistics company, is leasing the Gutmann property as office headquarters. Crain's reports that Sterling Bay is also eyeing the entire 40-acre Finkl site. 

Though Hopkins said he hasn't met with Sterling Bay recently, he admitted the developer is "very much an interested party in all of this."

"If they want to unveil a proposal before the community, I'll give them a format to do so," he said.

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