WEST LOOP — A West Loop alderman said he is being bombarded by developers interested in building residential buildings north of Lake Street, despite a ban on residential development in the area.
Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) said the interest comes after plans for a 19-story apartment tower at Fulton Market and Ogden Avenue on the west end of the West Loop were pitched at a meeting in March. The tower proposal opened up "the floodgates" of interest, and Burnett now said he has received calls from about seven other developers, all who are interested in building 15-18 story towers in the area.
"They're gang-rushing me," Burnett said. "Since we've entertained [the project at Fulton Market and Ogden], they now think that's what we're letting them do."
But Burnett hasn't signed off on the plans for the project at 1367-1377 W. Fulton Market, which would feature 315 apartments, 145 parking spaces and more than 16,000 square feet of street-level retail. The Fulton Market Innovation Plan, a land-use plan approved by the city in July 2014, calls for new residential buildings to only be developed south of Lake Street. That plan, which set out specific guidelines for certain subsets of Fulton Market, was developed to provide general design guidelines for the area and guide future zoning change requests.
Trammell Crow aims to develop a 19-story tower at at Fulton Market and Ogden Avenue that would bring 315 apartments to the west end of the West Loop. [Trammell Crow]
The neighborhood is home to corporations like Google and Glassdoor, and the city and the alderman have identified it as an area ripe for more offices and commercial projects.
Earlier this month, Burnett said he's hesitant to approve projects that don't comply with the Fulton Market Innovation Plan rules.
"We have got to really think about it," the veteran alderman said. "I think to some extent, some developers are getting too greedy and I think we need to slow down."
Burnett said he has to balance interest from developers with the existing Fulton-Randolph Landmark District plan which aims to preserve the neighborhood's character. Some landmarked buildings, which top out at four or five stories, are still garnering "top-dollar rents," Burnett said.
"When we did that, it was to preserve an area in the community. I think that's a great thing," Burnett said. "The Fulton Market District is something we've been preserving for a long time. It's my baby, and I don't know that I'm ready to let that go."
Community groups had a mixed reaction.
Armando Chacon, president of the West Central Association, said the land use plan is a guide, not the rule. A West Loop Design Guideline Task Force made up of the city's Department of Planning and Development and West Loop leaders is revisiting those guidelines now, Chacon said.
"The West Central Association favors a mixed use north of Lake, which should include residential," he said. "We think it should be part of the landscape north of Lake."
Chacon said the 19-story project could build up a stretch of of Ogden and anchor the west end of the Fulton Market district.
"There is not a lot of residential there now, and this is a way to activate the area," he said.
But Hannah Jones, director of economic development at the Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago, called the Fulton Market Innovation District plan "a well thought-out document" that was developed after numerous discussions with West Loop leaders.
"No housing north of Lake Street is a guideline decision that came out of those conversations, and should therefore be upheld," Jones said in a statement Thursday. "It is clear from the number of new housing developments already being proposed that allowing just one is not a possibility."
Carla Agostinelli, executive director of the West Loop Community Organization, said the group has not yet weighed in on the proposed Fulton project. While the agency respects the guidelines set by the Fulton Market Innovation District plan, she said the group does consider projects on a case-by-case basis.
"If there is a project which does not seem to fit within the guidelines and has reasoning for it, we will not have an issue making a recommendation that is appropriate," she said in a statement.
South of Lake Street, some residential buildings have been proposed or have recently been completed in Fulton Market, including the 29-story luxury high-rise apartment building The Parker on Lake Street and plans for more than 300 apartments at the Bridgford Foods site. A number of other residential projects have been proposed or are under construction in other parts of the booming West Loop.
The 19-story tower at Fulton and Ogden wouldn't be the first proposal the alderman has rejected north of Lake in recent years.
In 2015, architect Patrick FitzGerald pitched plans to build a 10-story building at 922 W. Lake St. just west of the existing Lake Street Lofts rental building on the north end of Lake Street. Despite support from neighbors, Burnett ultimately didn't approve the Lake Street project.
At the time, FitzGerald said the Lake Street block has been residential since the property was first developed in 2000.
"This little piece of Lake Street has been residential for quite some time," FitzGerald said in 2015. "We're not looking to introduce a new use here. We're simply looking to expand a use that we already have on land that we already own."
On Thursday, Thomas Fennell, a spokesman for FitzGerald, said the firm does not have an update on the status of the project at 922 W. Lake.
In 2005, developer Jerome Cedicci aimed to develop a 44-unit condominium building at 375 N. Morgan St. City Hall approval for the condo project in the West Loop manufacturing district, where residential construction was supposed to be prohibited, led to scrutiny and several top officials in the city's Building Department quit during an investigation of the matter.
If Burnett ultimately does approve the Fulton project, he said he will require the developer to designate 20 percent of the units as affordable housing. The project has been held in the City Council's Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards since January.