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Plan For 297 Apartments Near O'Hare Deferred At Alderman's Urging

By  Alex Nitkin and Heather Cherone | September 11, 2017 3:33pm | Updated on September 13, 2017 11:34am

"Thousands" of constituents called Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) to reject the proposal, he said.
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DNAinfo/Heather Cherone; Glenstar O'Hare, LLC

CITY HALL — City Council members honored their colleague's plea to block construction of a seven-story, 297-unit luxury apartment complex near the Cumberland CTA Blue Line station on Monday.

Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st) implored members of the council's zoning committee to reject the development and follow the longstanding tradition that gives aldermen the ultimate authority over developments on their own turf.

“My residents don’t want this kind of density,” Napolitano said, before the committee agreed to put off a decision for the second time.

Napolitano said the development would strain the police force in the Far Northwest Side Jefferson Park (16th) Police District and exacerbate overcrowding at nearby Dirksen Elementary School, 8601 W. Foster Ave., which is already near 140 percent capacity.

The M-shaped building at 8535 W. Higgins Road — where plans include a pool, "spa-type facilities," an "entertainment area for parties" and a "small private theater" — would be targeted to young professionals working near O'Hare Airport, Glenstar O'Hare principal Larry Debb told the Chicago Plan Commission, which approved the development in July.

Joining a cluster of hotels and office mid-rises between the Kennedy Expressway and the border of suburban Park Ridge, the development would include studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments, with the cheapest units starting around $1,200 per month.

John George, the attorney representing the developer, said his client had done everything that “had been asked” by city officials.

A study commissioned by the developer suggested that the new apartments would have a negligible impact on Dirksen, Debb said.

But even one new student would be "too many" for a school hosting more than 950 students in a building barely built for 500, Napolitano said in August.

The alderman also objected to the inclusion of 30 affordable units in the development.

Glenstar O'Hare orginally agreed to include only seven units on-site and to pay $2.9 million in lieu of putting 23 affordable units on site, as mandated under the city's 2015 Affordable Requirements Ordinance.

Napolitano said he was not aware until Monday that all 30 affordable units would be included in the project.

After the meeting, Napolitano said the change was "dirty" and designed "to tug on the heartstrings of the [zoning] committee on behalf of affordable housing."

At the hearing, George noted that the affordable housing law has been on the books for nearly two years.

Neighbors had offered few critiques of the plan when it was unveiled last December, leading to an official endorsement from the 41st Ward Zoning Advisory Committee on Jan. 4.

When Napolitano was elected to office in 2015, he had vowed to follow the committee's signal on every decision, just as his predecessor had. But a proposal to build 100 mixed-income apartments in nearby Jefferson Park sparked an intense backlash that made him take another look at the Higgins proposal, he said.

Six months passed after the committee's vote when Glenstar never asked the for the alderman's approval, "and that's when everything to the east of us exploded," Napolitano said in August.

"Easily a couple thousand people have called or emailed me, including zoning committee members, and said 'Are you kidding me? We're bringing more density to this ward?'" he said. "So I have to respect what they want, and they said they don't want this."

In June, Napolitano was the only member of the City Council to vote against the affordable housing proposal, set for 5150 N. Northwest Highway in the neighboring 45th ward.

Napolitano said he had reached out to Debb to negotiate a compromise, but the alderman downplayed any agreement on Monday, saying the development "can't be scaled down in a way that works."