Government reps to meet for Cortland TIF district approval on Jan. 11

Updated on 10 January 2019

The city of Chicago has announced a meeting this month that could affect the development of the proposed Lincoln Yards site.

The Jan. 11 meeting will let governmental bodies such as the Chicago Park District and Cook County say whether they'll permit property taxes, which fund their operations, to be diverted away from them to pay for roads and other infrastructure needed for the privately-developed Lincoln Yards.

At a public meeting held on Nov. 14, 2018, officials from the Chicago Dept. of Planning and Development proposed the Cortland/Chicago River tax-increment financing (TIF) district. The city wants the district to fund "[m]ajor infrastructure improvements," which it says "are needed to transition the area to a modern, mixed-use business corridor."

Planning department Commissioner David Reifman said last year that the Lincoln Yards development is one of several that "is stalled and has been stalled for some time," needing tax-increment financing to proceed.

State law requires a proposed TIF district to go through a half-dozen approval steps. For the Cortland district, the first step was the Nov. 14 public meeting; the next step is a meeting of something called the joint review board (JRB).

At the JRB meeting, representatives of all the local taxing governmental bodies will decide whether to approve the Cortland/Chicago River TIF district.

The governmental bodies that have a say in any Chicago-based TIF district are the city of Chicago, the Chicago Park District, the Chicago Board of Education, the Water Reclamation District, Chicago City Colleges, and Cook County—because they each receive property taxes from all property owners in the city. State law also requires that the JRB include a "public member" who's not a government employee.

While all the governmental bodies may weigh in about the TIF district at the JRB meeting, state law doesn't require them to attend.

For example, at a June 2, 2016 JRB meeting for the nearby Diversey/Chicago River TIF district, representatives from only the park district, City Colleges, and the board of ed were present. These representatives voted to approve the district, and the absent members essentially abstained.

The Cortland/Chicago River TIF district resides in the Chicago City Council's Second Ward, and in the Cook County Board's 12th District. The elected representatives of these areas are, respectively, Ald. Brian Hopkins and newly-elected Commissioner Bridget Degnen.

How do Hopkins and Degnen want the city and county's representatives at the Jan. 11 JRB meeting to vote regarding the proposed TIF district?

A spokesperson for Degnen said that the commissioner hadn't heard of the JRB. And while Degnen didn't address the county's JRB vote, she issued a statement that said, in part, that the "local community and the city’s taxpayers will be impacted by [Lincoln Yards], and our city’s residents deserve a thoughtful and transparent process to ensure the balance has been found."

The Second Ward alderman, Hopkins, recently indicated that he'd tapped the brakes on the Cortland/Chicago River TIF district: At a Nov. 29 public meeting held to discuss Lincoln Yards, Hopkins said that he recognized that residents had many questions about the TIF district.

"I will not allow this TIF proposal to move forward, I will not schedule the next hearing on this proposal," said Hopkins, "until those questions are answered."

It's not clear what influence, if any, Hopkins had on the scheduling of the JRB meeting—and the next step in the approval of the TIF district, a public hearing held by the city's Community Development Commission (CDC). The city has announced that the CDC hearing will occur on Tuesday, Feb. 19.

As to whether the city's JRB representative should vote to approve the Cortland/Chicago River TIF district, Hopkins didn't respond to several requests for comment.

The JRB's decision on the TIF district affects subsequent approval by the Chicago City Council: With JRB approval, the council may OK a TIF district with a simple majority of aldermen voting yes. Without JRB approval, the council may enact the TIF district only if three-fifths of aldermen vote yes.

The joint review board meeting to consider the Cortland/Chicago River TIF district will take place on Friday, Jan. 11, 10:00 a.m. in room 201A at City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St. The meeting is open to the public.