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North Branch Of River Could See New High-Rises Under Plan Before Council

By Ted Cox | June 28, 2017 5:24pm
 The North Branch Corridor Modernization Plan will set a basic blueprint for development along the Chicago River for decades to come.
The North Branch Corridor Modernization Plan will set a basic blueprint for development along the Chicago River for decades to come.
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C.H. Robinson

CITY HALL — Following through on changes proposed in the recently approved North Branch Industrial Corridor Modernization Plan, Mayor Rahm Emanuel submitted zoning changes Wednesday for the areas just north and south of Goose Island.

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) joined in sponsoring the proposed ordinance, and touted how it follows through on his own pledge to keep a large portion of fees imposed on developers within the 760-acre district.

The North Branch Industrial Corridor is a Planned Manufacturing District prohibiting residential zoning along the 3.7-mile stretch of the Chicago River between Fullerton and Kinzie avenues. The new ordinance submitted at Wednesday's City Council meeting would change zoning for the area north of Goose Island to manufacturing and the area just south of the island to Downtown service — both permitting mixed-use residences — while Goose Island and the area on both sides would remain a Planned Manufacturing District.

 Ald. Brian Hopkins touted additional concessions he won to keep some development funds specifically for use within the North Branch Industrial Corridor.
Ald. Brian Hopkins touted additional concessions he won to keep some development funds specifically for use within the North Branch Industrial Corridor.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

"Chicago’s industrial policies have been focused on the rear-view mirror for too long," Emanuel said in a statement. "These improvements are designed around the future, especially the mixed-use business districts that attract and support the jobs of tomorrow."

"These improvements will support industrial investment, commercial investment and infrastructure investment with millions of dollars of private dollars that wouldn't otherwise exist," added Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th), another co-sponsor. "The impact will go a long way for neighborhoods throughout the city."

Developers seeking zoning changes for specific parcels would be charged city fees for use in development in other areas of the city. According to the Mayor's Office, such fees in the Downtown district generated $30 million over the last year, "of which 80 percent is allocated toward retail corridors on the West, Southwest and South sides."

But Hopkins pushed through additional provisions calling for 70 percent of money raised through development fees for increased density in the northern third of the district to be kept and spent within the North Branch Corridor.

"This ordinance will ensure that funding will be available to mitigate traffic congestion and create open space opportunities for area workers and residents," Hopkins said. "These issues require a substantial amount of financial resources, and I’m proud to have played a role in this collaborative measure that will bring essential upgrades to the community and benefit the city as a whole."

Those fees would be imposed on non-industrial developments in the northern third of the district in exchange for allowing higher apartment buildings and condominiums.

Some 13 other aldermen immediately signed on as sponsors of the legislation, which figures to be fast-tracked and could clear the council next month.

It follows many of the proposals made in the framework for the district passed last month by the Plan Commission, specifically to open the northern and southern thirds of the district to residential development. But critics like Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) and various local community groups have said that opens the area to a "land rush" that will overtax resources such as parks in surrounding areas.