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5 Unanswered Questions From Sterling Bay's First Lincoln Yards Community Meeting

There was an electric atmosphere among the standing-room-only crowd of 500 people at Wicker Park’s Near North Montessori School Wednesday night. The school hosted the first community meeting for Sterling Bay’s planned $5B redevelopment of Lincoln Yards, 70 acres it controls along the North Branch Industrial Corridor.

At the end of the developer’s nearly one-hour presentation, attendees had more questions than answers.

Concern 1: Transparency

Sterling Bay Managing Principal Andy Gloor

Sterling Bay Managing Principal Andy Gloor and Director of Development Services Erin Lavin Carbonargi framed their presentation in personal terms. Gloor, a 25-year Lincoln Park resident, said he understands the concerns residents have about how Lincoln Yards will impact quality-of-life issues like traffic congestion, population density and having the infrastructure in place to support the influx of new residents, workers and tourists Lincoln Yards will eventually attract.

"This is not just about business. This is not a developer parachuting in and returning to New York. I'm going to wake up tomorrow or two years from now and this will still be my home," Gloor said.

Carbonargi, who handled the majority of the presentation, said Lincoln Yards would be equally split between commercial and residential development, with as many as 5,000 new homes planned. She estimated Lincoln Yards would generate $4.2B in economic impact for the city, $73.4M in new annual revenues and 23,000 new permanent jobs. Sterling Bay would pay $60.4M into the city's Bonus Opportunity Fund, and another $28.2M into the North Branch Industrial Corridor Fund.

But attendees expressed concerns she didn't give enough specifics about the plan, and Sterling Bay didn't take any questions at the end of its presentation. Instead, the meeting split into five breakout sections moderated by representatives of Kivvit, Sterling Bay's PR firm.

The breakout sections left many in the crowd confused, and scores of attendees simply left after the presentation. Those who remained split their attention between the breakout sections and seeking answers from 2nd Ward Alderman Brian Hopkins, who said no final determination on Sterling Bay's development plan has been made.

"This is as far from a done deal as you can possibly get," Hopkins said.

BRANCH Triangle President Retha Kay said the presentation lacked detail. She and other members of the community group demanded answers from Hopkins. The alderman instead referred the group and all attendees to fill out a survey expressing their priorities and complaints. Hopkins promised that last night's meeting would be only the first of many.

Concern 2: Transportation

Lincoln Yards rendering: Sterling Bay wants to service Lincoln Yards with three water taxis.

Carbonargi said Sterling Bay is working with the city and regional agencies to improve transportation infrastructure, including previously announced projects such as extending the 606 to Lincoln Yards and building a new Metra station to replace the decaying Clybourn station. Sterling Bay wants to service Lincoln Yards with three water taxis.

Dominick Street would be transformed into a public thoroughfare connecting Lincoln Yards' northern and southern portions, and a new bridge would be built at Armitage Avenue to allow for better traffic flow and to alleviate the congestion on Cortland and Webster. Sterling Bay is working with the Chicago Department of Transportation to consider the realignment of the intersection of Armitage, Elston and Ashland avenues, similar to the work it did smoothing out the six-corners intersection at Elston, Damen and Fullerton avenues.

Carbonargi said one of Lincoln Yards' best attributes is how it is connected to transportation. Debbie Doyle, a member of the zoning and development committee at Bucktown Community Organization, agreed that transportation infrastructure needs to improve, but disputed Carbonargi's claim the area is well-connected to transportation, especially public transit.

The presentation left Alderman Scott Waguespack (32nd) questioning the planning process.

Concern 3: Public Space Allotments

Lincoln Yards rendering: Sterling Bay said it is committing nearly 21 acres of Lincoln Yards to open, public space.

Carbonargi said Sterling Bay is already working on soil remediation and looking at energy efficiencies such as wind and solar power, and geothermal cooling using the river. The firm voluntarily enrolled in the Illinois EPA's site remediation program, hauled 13,000 tons of soil from Lincoln Yards' northern and southern sections, and plans to haul an additional 12,000 tons from the northern section. She said a total of 21 acres — 39% of the project — have been committed to public benefit.

RANCH Triangle's Kay questioned how much of that total is in actual green space, and how much involves pedestrian pathways like the Dominick Street extension. The community group, North Branch Park Preserve, contends the open space in the plan consists of concrete bike strips, underwater marshland and smaller patches of green separated by buildings, roads, the river, parking lots and located on rooftops.

Community groups are demanding more green space on ground level.

Concern 4: Preservation

Gloor said Lincoln Yards presents a unique opportunity to redevelop a former industrial site and activate the North Branch riverfront. He said the site was largely preserved by the city's planned manufacturing district zoning restrictions, and much of the site was a steel mill for a century.

"Very rarely do we get a blank slate like this," Gloor said.

While much of the former steel mills that make up Lincoln Yards have been razed, Preservation Chicago Executive Director Ward Miller said he obtained a list of 70 architecturally significant buildings along the North Branch Industrial Corridor that could be threatened by new development.

Concern 5: Density

Lincoln Yards rendering: Sterling Bay said it plans to build mixed-use towers as high as 800 feet at Lincoln Yards.

Sterling Bay is planning with density in mind since Lincoln Yards is considered a leading contender to be home to Amazon's second headquarters, if Chicago's bid proves to be the winner. Carbonargi said Sterling Bay is seeking zoning changes that would allow the firm to build a host of office towers, hotels and apartment buildings in the 300-foot height range, with a couple reaching as tall as 700 to 800 feet.

That announcement drew gasps from the crowd and sucked the life out of the meeting. Bucktown Community Organization's Doyle said even the lower height buildings would be out of place with the surrounding Lincoln Park and Bucktown communities.