As he faces a runoff election, 46th Ward alderman James Cappleman has been mum about a proposed, TIF-funded development near the Uptown lakefront.
  • Al Podgorski/Sun-Times
  • As he faces a runoff election, 46th Ward alderman James Cappleman has been mum about a proposed TIF-funded development near the Uptown lakefront.

Last year around this time, a group of Uptown activists were busy protesting 46th Ward alderman James Cappleman’s support for a pair of high-rise residential towers along the lakefront—a project that would use $14 million in tax increment financing (TIF) dollars, though only 10 percent of the units will be set aside as “affordable.”

But now the Uptown project, planned for the site of the abandoned Maryville hospital, has been sitting before the city’s Plan Commission for close to two years, with no word from the alderman—who’s in a runoff election—on what the heck is happening with it.

Housing—especially affordable housing—has been a divisive issue in Uptown as the area has gentrified over the last couple decades. During her 24 years in office, former 46th Ward alderman Helen Shiller worked to preserve many of the neighborhood’s affordable housing options and was often demonized for it by some media and residents.

Cappleman, who was elected in 2011 following Shiller’s retirement, has had his own battles over housing in the ward, which is made up largely of Uptown with a sliver of north Lakeview. Two years ago, Cappleman—who often points out that he was once a social worker—caused an uproar after he ordered Salvation Army trucks providing food to Uptown’s homeless to take a hike. That same year, he pushed for the closing of Lakeview’s Chateau Hotel, previously a single-resident-occupancy hotel viewed by some as a crime magnet, but seen by activists as one of the north side’s last remaining independent housing options for low-income residents.

That’s the context for the stalled proposal for new residential towers.

Originally, in 2011, a different development firm opted to buy the land on which the boarded-up Maryville buildings stand, provided the city create a TIF district to subsidize its plan to build 900 condos at the site. At the time Shiller agreed to sign off on the TIF district, provided money be transferred from a neighboring TIF district to spruce up the adjacent Clarendon Park field house, which was in need of renovation.

TIF districts, you may have heard, work by siphoning a total of more than $400 million in property tax dollars citywide into accounts largely controlled by the mayor. The TIF program was originally designed to spur economic development in blighted areas.

Amid questions about whether TIF money should go to the Maryville project, Uptown residents ultimately vetoed it.

A year later, JDL Development entered the scene. Its most recent plan for the Maryville site includes two high-rise residential towers with 860 units—of which 10 percent would be affordable—and 50,000 square feet of retail and commercial space.

JDL also proposed an underground parking garage located on land owned by the Park District, hence, under the agreement worked out with the city, some TIF dollars would have gone towards renovating the Clarendon Park field house. But the garage was ultimately scrapped, meaning there’s no longer a guarantee the field house will be fixed.

Despite pressure last year from affordable housing advocates who wanted the alderman to completely abolish the Montrose/Clarendon TIF district, JDL’s proposal was informally approved by a ward zoning committee formed by Cappleman’s office. Which brings us to present day, with the project sitting quietly in the city’s Plan Commission department.

The developer’s president said JDL plans to move forward with the project following a delay caused by “issues with the seller.” He wouldn’t comment on the project’s cost or confirm whether the company still planned to use $14 million in TIF dollars.

Cappleman didn’t say anything, as neither he nor anyone from his office responded to repeated requests for comment on the status of the former Maryville site.

In the midst of all this development talk, a 46th Ward runoff is nigh. On election day, Cappleman finished with about 47 percent of the vote and challenger Amy Crawford with 37 percent. Shiller’s former chief of staff Denice Davis finished with 15 percent of the vote.

Crawford, a 38-year-old corporate lawyer, said the ward already has enough affordable housing options. Like Cappleman, she supports the residential towers at the former Maryville site and, as alderman, would keep the Montrose/Clarendon TIF district alive and well.

“That site is clearly destined for market-rate housing and that’s okay with me,” she said of the former Maryville property.

Rather than focus on affordable housing, Crawford’s attacked Cappleman whenever possible on what she says are increased crime levels in the ward.

The two meet for their first public debate since February’s election on Saturday at the People’s Church, 941 W. Lawrence, at 2 PM.