The three skyscrapered mega-project due to sprout along the Chicago River late this year has been officially given the nod of approval from 42nd ward alderman Brendan Reilly.
Some think replacing the surface parking lot at Wolf Point (350 North Orleans Street) with two office one residential tower is just too much for the neighborhood, the traffic grid, and their views. But in an e-mail sent to his constituents, Reilly let it be known that the plan has his blessing.
In the grand tradition of Chicago politics, his is the only voice that matters. For decades it has been virtually unheard of for any alderman to vote against a project that has the backing of its local representative. That means, for all intents and purposes, Wolf Point is a go. And considering the words we’ve heard from the developer recently, we could see dirt turned before the end of the year.
Here is the alderman’s statement to his constituents:
I am writing to update you on the significant progress we have made related to the Wolf Point development proposal. I want to thank everyone who has taken time out of their busy schedules to participate in our community process and those who have provided me with valuable feedback since our first Wolf Point community meeting last May.
Over the past six months, my office has spent long hours in dozens of meetings with the Developer and city infrastructure departments to negotiate significant (and costly) changes to the Wolf Point site plan and traffic study. As a result, we have secured firm commitments that provide meaningful public benefits for residents of the River North and Fulton River District neighborhoods; and all residents of downtown’s 42nd Ward.
Following our initial community meeting in May, it became very clear that the primary concerns regarding this proposal were: traffic circulation and lack of public open (green) space. We all agree the original Wolf Point proposal fell woefully short on both fronts.
As a River North resident, I believe we are fortunate to live in the hottest, most sought-after mixed-use area in Chicago. As you know, when a neighborhood is popular and desirable – it attracts additional growth, investment and jobs. Most people would agree that, from an economic perspective, this is a wonderful problem for downtown Chicago to have; it’s certainly a problem cities like Detroit or Cleveland would love to have today.
That said, continued economic development and growth in the Central Business District do come at a cost – chiefly increased traffic congestion, more density and less available land for important community amenities like public parks and open green space.
Since you first elected me Alderman in 2007, I have been keeping my promise to address traffic congestion by working closely with our city traffic engineers to identify creative traffic calming solutions to offset high-density projects. I have successfully negotiated with developers via the planned development process to maximize the addition of more publicly accessible open green space to our downtown neighborhoods.
As you may know, when I was working to secure a credible traffic analysis for the Wolf Point development proposal, I had to send the Developer (Hines) and their traffic consultant (KLOA) back to the drawing board five separate times to revise their traffic study. In addition, I insisted that the Developer’s traffic consultant expand their traffic study to include all 12 intersections that surround the development site – doubling the size of the overall traffic study area that was initially proposed by KLOA.
Working with CDOT traffic engineers, I compiled a long list of traffic-related infrastructure improvements that will be important to help offset the impact of the proposed density for the Wolf Point site. I am very pleased to report that, as a result of our negotiations, Hines has agreed to fund 100% of the infrastructure improvements that were proposed by CDOT. This agreement includes an unprecedented amount of developer-funded infrastructure for new construction downtown, including:
- Relocation of the Kinzie Bike Lane to Grand Avenue when construction begins
- Eliminating all car and parking access from Kinzie Street – for all phases, immediately reducing traffic volumes on Kinzie with the start of construction
- Installation of a new traffic signal at intersection of Kinzie and Kingsbury
- Left turn arrow added for northbound to westbound turning vehicles at Orleans/Hubbard
- Right turn arrow added for southbound to westbound turning vehicles at Wells/Mart Drive
- Installation of countdown pedestrian signals at Kinzie and Kingsbury
- Monitor signal timing and adjust green signal lengths at Orleans/Wacker
- Left turn arrow for eastbound to northbound turning vehicles at upper Orleans/Mart Drive
- Left turn arrow for northbound to westbound turning vehicles at upper Orleans/Mart Drive
- Right turn arrow for southbound to westbound turning vehicles at upper Orleans/Mart Drive
- All pavement marking, static and electrical signs, and signal modifications for Orleans counter-flow lane from Hubbard to Wolf Point Plaza Drive. (To view a site plan of how that lane would function, please click here.)
- Study and work with neighboring property on the re-opening of the West Lateral Connector and improving service at West Access Drive
The second greatest area of concern raised by my constituents was the accessibility of publicly accessible open green space on the site. The Developer’s initial submission included barely one acre of useable public green space. Following several months of intense negotiations, the amount of public open green space on the site has mushroomed to a full 78% of the site – approximately 2.6 acres of the buildable area.
In addition to expanding the sheer acreage of public open space; we also negotiated a number of improvements to the landscape features proposed for the site, including:
- Increased total amount of riverbank park and open space to over 100,000 SF
- Increased number and size of trees on site, focusing on native, historic species
- Replaced parking ramp on west side of site with plantings and landscape
- Removed the east garden “switchback” accessibility ramp and replaced it with landscaping, native plantings and more open green space
- Added more native planting areas to west park and east park
- Significantly reduced the amount of hardscape and concrete on the Plaza
- Added planter beds and landscaping in front of West tower, at West end of Plaza Drive, and at plaza level on South and East towers
- Added landscaping and a grand staircase along west side of site
- Revised the Riverwalk design to a cantilevered walkway system that shields the existing seawall and allows for natural river habitat and aesthetics.
- Improved Phase I condition by adding landscaping elements, mature trees and a more complete upper plaza level as a part of the interim condition
Please note that many of the Chicago Park District’s neighborhood parks are not nearly as large as the planted areas proposed in the Developer’s revised plan. It is also important to note that Hines is not seeking any public subsidies to assist with the construction or on-going maintenance of the riverbank park open space or the Riverwalk. In order to offset some West Tower encroachments, the Developer has more than doubled what is required by city code for public, open green space.
In addition to the above issues, we have addressed other Riverwalk-related concerns that were raised during our ongoing community process or were submitted to me personally. As a result, the Developer has agreed to make these additional changes:
- Added public restaurant space with public restrooms
- Added outdoor seating area to the base of East tower along the Riverwalk
- Added public promenade and “lookout point” on upper plaza that will become a popular destination point for Chicago tourists and visitors
- Added a Chicago Water Taxi stop adjacent to the Orleans Street Bridge
- Added design elements to the Riverwalk and plaza that celebrate the historic significance and geographic importance of Wolf Point
- Added more Riverwalk lighting to address valid public safety concerns
- Moved the location of the NE stairway closer to the River’s edge to increase its prominence, public visibility, and ease of access
- Added more landscaping and opportunities for public art at entrance to NE stair
- Added landscaping elements to NW Riverwalk entry
- Extended the Riverwalk to the edge of the property to improve transition from Wolf Point into the north neighbors’ property at the NW Riverwalk entry
Following a full year of studies, analyses and lengthy negotiations in addition to the careful consideration of all the feedback my office has received, I believe we are now ready to proceed to the November Chicago Plan Commission for the required public hearing regarding the significantly revised Planned Development amendment proposal.
Thanks to your valuable feedback, the revised proposal is a far greener, far more compatible plan for our neighborhood. The fifth revision of the Developer’s traffic study now contains: a credible, more accurate report of the current traffic conditions; better forecasts the effects of the density proposed for Wolf Point; and actionable solutions.
I am grateful to everyone who dedicated their personal time to review this proposal and provide me with important feedback regarding this very important, prominent site. Whenever I negotiate a planned development on your behalf, I always strive to secure as long a list of privately-funded community benefits and improvements as possible.
To date, the city infrastructure departments have approved the site plan pursuant to the final traffic study. To view this document, please click on the link. If you wish to view a PDF of the last public presentation regarding Wolf Point from October 29th, please click here.
As additional documents are finalized as part of the application, I will post them on my website for your review. If you have not yet visited my website, please take a moment to visit www.ward42chicago.com.
Should you have any further questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact my office via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 312-744-3062.
Alderman, 42nd Ward