CITY HALL — A plan to demolish a vacant food distribution site in the heart of Jefferson Park and replace it with a storage facility and apartment complex failed Monday to win the support of the City Council's zoning committee.
Although the council typically defers to the alderman of each ward when it comes to matters of zoning, Ald. Edward Burke (14th) stepped in during what had already been hours of contentious testimony about the plan to build a five-story, 68-foot warehouse at 5150 N. Northwest Highway.
Burke demanded that a roll call vote be taken to determine whether enough members of the committee were present for a vote to be valid. When it became clear that there was not enough members of the committee still present for the seventh hour of the meeting, the session was adjourned — much to the delight of opponents of the development.
"There are hundreds of people here," Burke said after the meeting. "Shouldn't they be given the right to have the rules enforced? The people's business is entitled to be done according to the rules."
Ald. John Arena (45th), who said he was caught off guard by Burke's maneuver, vowed to bring the project before the next meeting of the zoning committee, set for next month.
"This is a minor delay," Arena said. "We have a good project. We're going to make sure we've dotted all the I's and crossed all the Ts."
After the meeting, Arena said Burke expressed concern Monday morning that there was a "procedural" problem with the legal settlement reached between the owner of the property and city officials on Jan. 27 requiring Arena to "agree to support and not to challenge" the five-story construction plan. Otherwise, a lawsuit could click back into motion.
Arena said he did not know what Burke's issue was with the settlement, which had been signed off on by city attorneys.
Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for the Law Department, declined to comment on the settlement.
The plan for the storage facility was approved earlier this month by the Chicago Plan Commission, but the apartments are not under consideration by city officials. City officials are expected to weigh whether to approve the apartments in the coming months as part of a separate proposal.
Originally, the developers had planned to renovate the existing three-story building for its self-storage warehouse, instead of razing the structure and starting from scratch.
But before the renovation work began last April, Arena changed the zoning on the property to allow another proposal — this one including apartments — to come forward. That prompted the lawsuit, which was ultimately settled.
Emotions ran high at the committee meeting on Monday, where dozens of Jefferson Park residents testified that the project would spoil the neighborhood's small-town feel.
Others said the project would jumpstart economic development in the area around the Jefferson Park Transit Center, which is pockmarked with empty storefronts.
While speakers were asked not to mention the adjoining apartment complex, the plan for the new homes were frequently mentioned despite the admonishment.
Approximately 20 of the complex's 100 units would be rented at market rate, with another 20 to 30 reserved for low-income residents on the CHA's waiting list. The rest of the apartments would be reserved for tenants making between 30 percent and 60 percent of the area's median income, roughly $25,000 to $45,000 annually.
With up to 30 units designed exclusively for wheelchair users, operator Full Circle Communities said it would give preference to military veterans and people with disabilities for at least half of the apartments.
In the weeks since the proposal was unveiled, an intense backlash has been sparked by some neighbors, many of whom predict its low-income tenants would unleash a wave of crime in a relatively safe neighborhood.