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500 Acres of Beautiful Brownfield Redevelopment

Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

One of the items on the docket yesterday for the City Council Zoning Committee was the first step toward changing the face of the South Shore for generations to come.  McCaffery Interests is trying to develop the nearly 500 acre site of the old US Steel South Works site along the lake between 79th and 87th.  As the Tribune first reported, the Zoning Committee approved both a development proposal for the first 77 acres in the northwest corner of the property, as well as an overall zoning plan for the entire development.

South Shore Plan.jpg

The first phase of the development covers the northwest corner of the now vacant land. Copyright McCaffery Interests.

This is an incredible chance for the city to transform an entire area into a local hub--not to mention add to the string of lake front parks that already covers most of the shoreline.  The first 77 acres alone will add a million square feet of retail space plus plenty of residential units.  When finally completed (maybe before I die?) the 500-acre project calls for 17,000 dwellings--potentially a density of over 30,000 people per square mile, or roughly the same as Lake View.

The zoning that the committee approved [pdf] allows for a range of building styles, from RS-1 (single-family homes) and RM-6.5 (dense apartment-style living) to B2-3 mixed use and B3-5 community shopping district.  Obviously individual parcels will be zoned and developed as the plan progresses, but this at least gives the project the leeway to grow into a great neighborhood of its own more naturally.

But with a community shopping district, 100 acres of outdoor space--including lakefront park space--and a 1,500 slip marina, people are going to want to come and go from around the city and region.  There's not room for all those cars, nor should we require people to drive to get there.  This is a golden opportunity for either a land-value capture program or a public-private partnership to expand the CTA's reach in this area.  (The money from the TIF on this land will mostly be put to completing the street grid and adding water and electrical service to the area.)

So how does the CTA expand into this space?  Currently the #6 bus ends at South Shore and 79th, right at the northern edge of the development, and could be used to connect residents to points north.  Depending on how the street grid is designed, extending the route with a simple loop through the neighborhood would work--similar to how eastbound #87 buses loop along Buffalo, 91st, and Commercial before heading west again.  Depending on how the soon-to-be 79th St. BRT route is laid out, it could make the same loop, connecting residents with points west.

More ambitiously, there's a possibility of connecting this area to the city via rail service.  All but the easternmost reaches of the development are within a mile of the Cheltenham or 83rd St. Metra South Shore Line station.  To me, 20,000 new residents sound a lot like 20,000 potential new riders.  Is this the bump necessary to get some political muscle behind the Gray Line plans that have been floating around since 2004?

There's still time for all of these decisions to be made, as this is a 20-40 year development plan.  It's rare though for an established city like Chicago to be able to redevelop valuable property like this whole-cloth into a thriving neighborhood.  Let's make it an example to the rest of the country of how we can still get things right.



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