MPC Presents Zoning Change Strategy, a Model for Sweeping Remapping of Chicago's Neighborhoods - Metropolitan Planning Council

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MPC Presents Zoning Change Strategy, a Model for Sweeping Remapping of Chicago's Neighborhoods

Neighborhood-Based Changes in New Ordinance Outlined at Media Briefing

Spend any time traveling through one of Chicago’s “hot” residential neighborhoods, and you’ll see one: a tall, skinny, new construction condo building towering over its single-family neighbors. Prohibiting this urban design disaster is one of several significant improvements in the City’s revised zoning code. Today, at a briefing for media, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) highlighted other significant changes to neighborhood zoning contained in the first update to Chicago’s code since 1957. MPC also presented its Zoning Change Strategy — a model for getting local communities involved in the zoning mapping process that will determine the future character of their neighborhoods.

“Zoning can do more than regulate bulk, use, and location,” said MarySue Barrett, president of the Planning Council. “It’s a tool that shapes communities in a way that preserves neighborhood character and enhances quality of life, by expanding housing options, promoting transit-oriented development, and protecting open space.”

MPC’s work around Chicago’s historic rewrite of its zoning code has focused on broadening community participation. In 2001, MPC conducted focus groups in four Chicago neighborhoods to identify creative zoning solutions to residents’ concerns. Ultimately, nine of MPC’s top recommendations were adopted by the Mayor’s Zoning Reform Commission and are included in the pending text. In 2003, MPC unveiled its Zoning Change Strategy in two local neighborhoods — West Town and Rogers Park — and will work with three additional communities in 2004: Lawndale, Logan Square, and South Chicago.

“It’s ironic that the City of Neighborhoods has no strategy for creating a new zoning map in the neighborhoods,” noted Peter Skosey, MPC’s vice president of external relations, who leads the Council’s zoning project. “Our Zoning Change Strategy is a model that gives local residents a voice in the future of their communities. And, it can be applied in any ward. We’d like to see the City be an innovator in this second phase of zoning reform, as they were with the first.”

MPC’s mapping process has three steps. One, MPC provides the communities with basic zoning training plus maps, cameras, and logbooks. Two, teams of two to three people go block by block recording assets and challenges. Three, after the community has compiled its data, MPC analyzes it and returns recommendations based on the proposed zoning districts in the new code.

Said Tiffany Childress, New Communities program organizer for Lawndale Christian Development Corporation, “The new zoning districts are very important to our planning process. Planning and projects concerning retail, recreational areas, and housing could become obsolete if not synchronous with the city’s zoning.”

In Lawndale, MPC’s Zoning Change Strategy will complement a comprehensive planning effort the community is undertaking as a part of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation’s New Communities Initiative.

Other zoning changes MPC highlighted at today’s briefing addressed the following neighborhood challenges and possible solutions:

  • Uneven front yards;
  • Patio pits, blank walls facing the street, and front-facing garages;
  • Drive-throughs on classic pedestrian streets;
  • No standards for auto-oriented commercial streets;
  • 700 linear miles of underutilized commercial zoning;
  • Open space;
  • One-size-fits-all parking requirements; and
  • Overly generous sign regulations.

The Chicago City Council is expected to vote on the new ordinance in early 2004, with remapping to begin soon thereafter. At today’s briefing, MPC reviewed its new publication Lay of the Land 2003, A National Survey of Zoning Reform , an update to its 1999 zoning survey that compares mapping and community participation in 12 cities.

Founded in 1934, MPC is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group of business and civic leaders committed to serving the public interest through the promotion and implementation of sensible planning and development policies necessary for a world-class Chicago region.

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