CITY HALL — The city Plan Commission signed off on major zoning changes for the North Branch Industrial Corridor Thursday.
The commission unanimously approved a set of zoning recommendations put forth last month by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, generally opening the areas just north and south of Goose Island to mixed-use residential developments.
In doing so, the commission overruled "reservations" expressed by Aldermen Michele Smith (43rd) and Tom Tunney (44th) that it was opening up those areas to "a land rush."
Smith, who has repeatedly pushed for the North Branch Industrial Corridor changes to include a major new park, said she was embarrassed by a flawed public process, reflected by a confused set of simultaneous public meetings on the issue last week.
She said it was beyond foolish to allow developers to dictate zoning changes piecemeal in developments to come, such as Sterling Bay's Finkl Steel project. Smith charged the city was basically giving away North Side real estate for pennies on the dollar.
Tunney, who is also a member of the Plan Commission, agreed, citing "reservations" he's previously expressed.
"This is going to be a land rush," he said. "It's going to be a very dense area, and it's going to have a ripple effect all across the Northwest Side."
He cited Thursday's announced upcoming sale of Anixter Center, 2032 N. Clybourn Ave., as an example.
Other local groups, including Friends of the Chicago River, chimed in on the need for a major new park in the area.
Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), however, repeated his pledge to get at least 10 acres of public land granted as part of upcoming developments, and said he would hold developers' feet to the fire to get public land and amenities included in any planned development.
"The community will be the driving force in determining what gets built in the North Branch Corridor," he said.
Hopkins added that he thought the public process was not rushed, as it had taken more than a year since the zoning changes were first suggested as part of the North Branch Industrial Corridor Modernization Plan.
Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) agreed, stating that 99 percent of the corridor's 760 acres long a 3.7-mile stretch of the Chicago River between Fullerton and Kinzie avenues were in either his ward or Hopkins'. He pooh-poohed Smith's criticism, saying, "It really won't affect her ward the way it will affect our wards."
Citing how the area is expected to welcome technology firms and their employees in the years to come, Burnett said, "This is something we have to do to stay competitive and keep our city moving in the right direction."
The measure passed the commission by a unanimous vote, although Tunney paused a long time before casting his vote in favor.
The zoning changes basically end Planned Manufacturing Districts north and south of Goose Island, and restore conventional manufacturing zoning north of Goose Island and declares the area to the south a Downtown service area, with developers now able to pay fees to make additional zoning changes in the future.
The zoning proposal now goes to a joint City Council committee on Monday ahead of final Council approval set for Wednesday's meeting.