In May, Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD) initiated a process to review and enhance the Kinzie Planned Manufacturing District as part of Mayor Emanuel’s initiative to maintain the area as an economic engine. On Tuesday, DPD officials unveiled their latest version of the plan, but some in the industry say it doesn’t go far enough.
The Kinzie PMD borders Fulton Market and the West Loop—two neighborhoods that have exploded with new office, multifamily and retail development over the past two decades. The new plan that DPD presented calls for opening up the portion of the corridor between Ogden and Ashland avenues to office and retail development currently prohibited by zoning regulations. The remainder of the district, which runs west between Lake Street and Grand Avenue until terminating at Sacramento Boulevard, would retain its PMD status, disallowing any Fulton Market-style transformation.
According to Steve Fifield, chairman of Fifield Cos., the relaxing of zoning regulations east of Ogden is a welcome change, as the area can benefit from the same development that saw Fulton Market evolve from a disused industrial area to a thriving, mixed-use neighborhood. He argues, however, that maintaining the PMD’s strict oversight west of Ashland will hamper development.
“I applaud the proposed change that would allow more non-residential uses including offices, retail and other commercial in this area while increasing Chicago’s real estate tax base and attracting more jobs to the city,” Fifield said. “I hope the city traffic engineers are carefully studying the impact on increased street use from the rapidly expanding office base in the Fulton Market District and here. With nearly 3 million square feet of newly opened or under-construction offices, the last thing the city wants is gridlock in this area.”
Going even further, real estate attorney Steven “Sonny” Ginsberg, co-founder of Ginsberg Jacobs LLC, urges the city to recognize a changing urban landscape. To Ginsberg, this area has the same modernization potential as the North Branch Industrial Corridor, which the city recently deregulated.
“While I understand Alderman Burnett’s desire to respect existing uses and owners, in my view, that is not what smart zoning is about,” Ginsberg said. “Fulton Market is a changing area. I believe the city should be proactive not only in anticipating requests for change, but also in determining what future uses make sense for this area.”
For the section of the PMD where the city has proposed opening up development, those future uses are on display. As it stands now, the section between Ogden and Ashland would no longer have a maximum square footage for office space, instead limited by the area’s 3.0 FAR. Eating and drinking establishments are currently leashed to a 4,000-square-foot footprint, but the new proposal doubles this; a successful variance could triple it to 12,000 square feet. Not continuing these allowances past Ashland, Ginsberg argues, is nearsighted to the live-work balance that the region could support.
“As offices move into this area, it makes sense to me that employees should be able to live near work, and also eat and shop near where they work and live. That’s good urban planning. Even if there are employees of industrial uses who live close to their work, those uses just are not conducive to developing neighborhoods,” said Ginsberg. “Fortunately, the values of those industrial properties have risen as a result, so relocation of those businesses should not cause monetary harm to existing uses.”
Speaking at the Tuesday evening community event, 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett hit back at those calling for looser restrictions on the entirety of the PMD. “I know developers want to make a lot of money,” Alderman Burnett said. “I also know residents who own property in the area want to see their property values go up so they can make a lot of money, too. I’d like to help people do that, but not at the expense of everybody else. There has to be a balance.”