The Chicago Reader’s Maya Dukmasova joins us today. Maya covers housing and criminal justice. She recently produced a fascinating report about a lawsuit being brought by a developer that could, if it proceeds, challenge the age-old tradition in the city council of “aldermanic prerogative.” In short, this tradition holds that any alderman can support, or reject, any development in his or her ward, and all the other alderpeople will support the prerogative.
Thant kinda came apart in the 41st Ward when Alderman Anthony Napolitano had supported a large-scale, 300-unit apartment tower near Cumberland and Higgins. Until he didn’t. Why he changed his mind is a fascinating story, and it’s closely tied to a very different high density building proposed for Northwest Highway just south of Foster in John Arena’s 45th Ward. Arena supports it, but Napolitano didn’t like it and he helped lead the opposition to the building, ignoring Arena’s aldermanic prerogative.
“He kind of meddled in a neighboring ward,” Dukmasova explains. “A lot of people thought for political purposes, because Napolitano is Chicago’s only Republican Alderman…whereas John Arena is this self-styled progressive. He wasn’t bound to the pressure of the people were against the building.”
Months later, Napolitano, after it had been revealed that the 41st Ward building would include as many as 30 affordable-rate apartments, appeared before the zoning committee to withdraw his support. His objection was that the building had too much density. The board complied. The developer sued.
The developer is arguing that, since there’s no legal procedure for these kids of arrangements, and since the decision to withhold zoning was made in secret, it violated the Open Meetings Act.
So is it possible that the developer’s suit could end one of the strongest informal traditions in the City Council, forcing Aldermen to reach zoning and planning decisions in the light of day?
Dukmasova doesn’t think so. She tells us that the City will probably find a way to settle with GlenStar, the developer, and agree to give the company all the hearings and process it seeks, ending the dispute (and saving the Prerogative.)
“GlenStar’s argument in their complaint is that, either aldermanic prerogative is a thing, and we honor this custom, and this is how it works, you can’t flip flop. If your saying you’re for it, you’re for it” says Dukmasova, “Or, it has to be declared unlawful, because it’s just this arbitrary thing that doesn’t follow any kind of rules or guidelines.”
Dukmasova also tells us about story she recently wrote about Atrium Village at Wells and Division. Built in 1979 as a private affordable housing development, it is in the process of being redeveloped. The idea has been that several luxury towers would be built in the parcel, with the affordable housing units interspersed throughout the development. Recently, though, the developers announced that all of the affordable units would be concentrated in the old building, and that people living in the old building would have no access to amenities, such as pools, gyms, etc.
Dukmasova quotes one of the affordable-unit tenants as saying “the developer said that having people from the mid-rise use amenities in the luxury buildings would create a situation in which they wouldn’t be able to have enough eyes or enough people supervising these tenants.”
We also discuss the total rehabilitation that’s under way now at Lathrop Homes at Clybourn and Diversey, and how the promise that all of the public housing units lost during the redevelopment would be replaced, is yet to be fulfilled.
Finally, we talk about Mayor Emanuel’s decision to build a massive, $95 million training academy on Chicago’s far west side. Dukmosava has profiled the young activists who’ve been organizing against the project, arguing that placing hundreds of officers in the middle of an impoverished community could induce unnecessary friction, and that the academy could be built for far less money in a smaller footprint on property the city already owns.
You can listen to this program on SoundCloud here: