Chicago Codes
New Chicago Zoning Ordinance Seminar

On June 17th the Real Estate Investment Association (REIA) held a breakfast meeting, which addressed the major changes in the new Chicago Zoning Ordinance. Ed Kus, the Executive Director of the Zoning Reform Commission, provided an authoritative overview of the major changes. Also speaking was Donna Pugh, chair of the Land Use Practice Group at Vedder Price.

Mr. Kus summed up the goal of the new Ordinance - "to improve quality of life." Most changes affected residential areas, and downtown remained relatively unchanged. One of the major changes to achieve this goal was the creation of "half step" districts. Under the old ordinance significant gaps in density existed between districts. For example, there was a 200% increase from R4 (10 units) to R5 (25 units). Now there is a 4.5 district that only allows for 15 units. These half steps promote development that better matches the neighborhood's character.

Donna Pugh emphasized that the new half steps will facilitate development without wrangling with the Alderman or neighborhood, but the new zoning ordinance is not the only document you need to review. There are design guidelines which must also be consulted; some for planned developments are already in the ordinance and others will be released in a separate handbook.

Overdevelopment, which was permissible under the old ordinance, was a major catalyst for change. The new ordinance reacts to this concern with new districts for public parks and open spaces. Other changes geared toward the goal of quality of life focused on creating walkable, attractive neighborhoods. There are now strict limits on front yard driveways and curb cuts. Also, doors and windows are required to face the street, and there are increased yard requirements.

The new ordinance provides strict criteria for certain designated areas. Pedestrian and Mobility streets carry strict controls on curb cuts, sidewalks, and other criteria. Manufacturing districts will no longer allow non-manufacturing development.

Downtown Chicago changes were minimal with all FARs remaining the same. There are new downtown zoning classifications that reflect residential, mixed use, and a downtown "core."

The new ordinance maintains existing parking standards for residential and non-residential, though many minimum ratios have been reduced or eliminated. According to Mrs. Pugh, the City's goal is to limit auto use and promote transit, biking, and other alternative modes of transportation. Signs, on the other hand, are more regulated in the new ordinance. Size ratios were as high as 24:1 and now they are between 3:1 and 5:1. Rooftop signage is only permitted within size limits and with a variance. Note that all existing signs are grandfathered in.

Mrs. Pugh also highlighted what had not changed. The aldermanic system has not changed. Community input is still there and stronger under the new ordinance. Also, she advises meeting early with the zoning department staff to identify the hot issues that will need to be accommodated.