At their monthly legislative session on Wednesday, April 10, 2019, Chicago City Council voted on several landmark ordinances and resolutions including approval of creating a tax increment financing (TIF) area around the Lincoln Yards and 78 property developments amid outspoken protests.
City Council also adopted a resolution establishing goals for Chicago to use 100 percent renewable energy and passed a major revision to the Chicago Building Code.
It was also Mayor Rahm Emanuel's last City Council meeting before Lori Lightfoot will take over the position on May 20.
Lincoln Yards is a 14.5 million square foot development from Sterling Bay that is set to include 6,000 homes, with 600 being designated as affordable. The development will be where Lincoln Park is now.
The development will be funded by “almost $300 million” from Sterling Bay and 490 million taxpayer dollars, according to Alderman Brian Hopkins of the 2nd Ward. The vote for allocating the tax money and approving the ordinances for the project passed 31-14.
The 78 development from Related Midwest will have as many as 10,000 homes in the area along Roosevelt by the Chicago river.
Both projects have major funding from Chicago taxpayers through the creation of TIF areas, essentially a way to set aside property taxes over a 23 year period for development in a specific area.
The debate surrounding the use of a TIF for the developments was heated, in the council chambers and out. Outside of City Hall, protesters holding signs blocked LaSalle Street. Among the protesters were several aldermen-elect, according to reporting from Block Club Chicago. Inside, members of the Coalition for Fair School Funding had brought students on their day off to protest the vote and advocate for delaying or stopping the vote altogether.
Kate McCarter, a 2nd Ward resident and member of the Friends of North Branch Park, said that the Lincoln Yards project should not have been funded with tax dollars because “community input was not valued” and “feedback was marginalized and not integral to planning” the development.
Amy Abramson, another 2nd Ward resident who wore large stickers on her shirt reading “#DelayTheTIF” and “#DelayTheVote,” said that she was “disappointed but not at all surprised” that the vote passed, citing the many last minute changes to the ordinances — some of which happened only hours before the City Council meeting.
The discussion on the council floor was also heated. Alderman Raymond Lopez of the 15th Ward said that the Council should address the “unprecedented amount of lies and deception” coming from opponents of the projects, saying that they are a “good deal” for Chicago. Alderman Brian Hopkins of the 2nd Ward, the chief sponsor of the ordinances surrounding the Lincoln Yards development and proponent of the projects, said that the projects were “what tax money is for.”
Among the elected officials opposing the projects, Alderman Scott Wagusepack of the 37th Ward said that there “hasn’t been lies and deception from the community but lies and deception built into the project from day one,” adding that his constituents, some of whom will be affected by the development, didn’t want to “sock away” the money from the TIF for 23 years.
Alderman Pat Dowell, the alderman overseeing the area Illinois Tech is in, was unavailable for comment and has not released any statement regarding her opposition to the projects, despite her voting against them.
The City Council also unanimously voted to adopt a resolution showing “support of renewable energy goals” and setting a “timeline and milestones” for Chicago relying on solely on renewable sources of energy and fully electrifying the Chicago Transit Authority's (CTA’s) fleet of buses.
This vote was supported by a coalition of nonprofits and advocacy groups working as part of the Sierra Club’s Ready For 100 campaign. Its passing makes Chicago the largest city to adopt such a commitment.
Kyra Woods, an organizer from the Sierra Club who worked on the campaign, said in a statement that “setting a goal is just the beginning,” clarifying in an interview that the campaign’s next steps are to get a “better understanding” of how Mayor-elect Lightfoot views the goal and its possible implementation strategies.
Woods also stated that the campaign was supported by college students from around the city, with students at the University of Chicago doing the initial feasibility study for the resolution and students from Loyola providing “some really great organizing power.”
Illinois Tech has several student organizations focused on sustainability and climate change. Maddy Urig, outgoing treasurer for Engineers for a Sustainable World and current President of Illinois Tech’s chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby, said that it’s “absolutely incredible that a city the size of Chicago is doing something so big,” adding that the Midwest is “kind of notorious” for not engaging with climate issues.
The City Council also unanimously adopted a major revision to the city’s building code based on international standards for such codes. This has been the result of an ongoing project of updating the city’s building and electrical codes done by Dr. Judy Freedland in the planning department. This is the first time the code has been updated this much in almost 70 years.
Rahm Emmanuel's last meeting ended with a resolution brought forward to thank him for his service, with about a dozen aldermen not involved in drafting it standing in support of the resolution. Several alderman with a public history of disliking the outgoing mayor even stood to acknowledge the parts of his mayorship that were done well.
Alderman Walter Burnett of the 27th Ward stood up to say to Emmanuel, “you are a hustler,” going on to clarify that he respects Emmanuel's ability to bring corporations, aldermen, and neighborhoods into coalitions to accomplish his political goals.