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Lincoln Yards Plan Approved By Chicago Plan Commission Despite Opposition From Some Community Groups

CHICAGO (CBS)--A toned-down but still ambitious Lincoln Yards development plan--sans a 20,000-seat soccer stadium and large music venues--has earned the approval of 2nd Ward Ald. Brian Hopkins, but the $6 billion sprawling North Side proposal has yet to win over a coalition of community members trying to delay the city from giving it the green light.

The city's Plan Commission unanimously approved the latest plans for Lincoln Yards at a hearing Thursday morning joined by Chicago-based development firm Sterling Bay. The firm plans to revitalize 55 acres of defunct industrial space along the Chicago River in Lincoln Park and Bucktown with parks, major public transit upgrades, housing and commercial space.

The coalition of community-based groups opposing the development plan had a strong showing at City Hall Thursday, where more than 100 people on both sides of the aisle spoke to Sterling Bay developers and Plan Commissioners.

Critics of the ambitious development plans said the city was moving too quickly with the approval process, but Ald. Hopkins said residents have had plenty of time to provide input on the plans. He said a total of 18 public meetings have been held on the issue since the plans were publicly revealed last July.

But the latest version of the project from Sterling Bay was presented on Saturday, leaving the public four days to look at the plan before it went up for a vote at Thursday's Plan Commission hearing. Opponents said that wasn't enough time and asked city officials to slow down the zoning process.

Some critics, like Judy Mansueto of Friends of the North Branch Park and Nature Preserve, called it irresponsible for city officials to approve such a massive change to the city's landscape just five weeks ahead of the mayoral election.

"No one here wants to see that land stay open," Mansueto said. "But City Hall wants to get the development plans passed before the February election."

Judy Mansueto
Friends of the North Branch is one of the community groups opposing the Lincoln Yards development.

Concerns about traffic congestion the development could cause, along with the height of the proposed skyscrapers included in the plan have also drawn ire from opponents, who say Lincoln Yards would bring massive changes to the character of the city's North Side that deserve careful consideration.

The first construction phase would include two office buildings and a parking garage.

Tim Tutton co-owns one of the oldest businesses in the neighborhood, the Hideout. The dive bar opened in 1887, Tutton said. It calls itself 'Chicago's most-loved small venue," and has a strong following of 'regulars' from the neighborhood.

"My view of the skyline I've had since the 1880's will be gone," he said of skyscrapers included in the plans.

Jan. 24 Plan Commission
Tim Tutton owns the Hideaway in Lincoln Park. He opposes the Lincoln Yards development and spoke out against it at the Jan. 24 Plan Commission meeting.

Aside from 15 million square-feet of residential, hotel, retail, entertainment and office space, the focal point of the project is two large parks added to the plans recently, Hopkins said.

The Planned Unit Development shows about 21 acres of open public space that would host sports leagues for youth and other recreational teams. The additional public space was added in place of the sports arena and music venues controlled by LiveNation. Sterling Bay got rid of the stadium and entertainment venues at Hopkins's request.

New details released by Sterling Bay last weekend include the addition of 1,000 residential units (for a total of 6,000). About 20 percent of those dwellings would be designated for affordable housing, city officials said.

Proposed infrastructure improvements include new bridges, a new Metra station, the extension of the 606 trail, additional CTA service and new water taxi stops.

The development would occupy 55 acres of land between Webster and North avenues, which Sterling Bay already owns. It could grow larger once more land is acquired.

Construction would be carried out in phases stretching over a decade, according to the proposal.

The City Council will vote on a final plan, but that date has not been set yet.

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