Chicago Zoning Reform - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Chicago Zoning Reform

MPC's proposal for incorporating neighborhood concerns in Chicago's zoning reform


The City of Chicago’s current zoning code was adopted in 1957.  Since that time there have been many attempts to create a citywide land use plan.  However, these attempts have been unsuccessful.  This failure coupled with the old zoning code has led to development inconsistent with neighborhood desires.  Many contemporary projects are being built using variances and special exceptions that dilute the uniformity of existing communities and complicate the zoning code. 

A new zoning code is being proposed for the purposes of bringing forth more uniformity and efficiency to the zoning process.  The revised code will predict future needs and eliminate obsolete clauses.  Combined with this effort will be a series of suggested improvements to the zoning process that should make for a more user-friendly, less-cumbersome and quicker zoning application process. 

Project Description

The Metropolitan Planning Council is embarking on a multi-year project that will be broken into four phases:

  1. Development of a toolkit for analysis of zoning’s impact on community;
  2. Testing of the toolkit in select communities to develop site-specific neighborhood plans;
  3. Drafting of development guidelines for Chicago neighborhoods;
  4. Incorporation into the City’s zoning reform efforts.

1. The Toolkit

The toolkit is being specifically designed to meet the needs of community organizations and planning and building professionals in the neighborhoods.  The toolkit is designed to empower community organizations in determining the development patterns of their neighborhoods. This toolkit will be widely distributed and used in our efforts to identify guidelines for a revised City of Chicago zoning ordinance.

2. Testing and Neighborhood Vision Plans

MPC will work with selected community organizations to test the toolkit’s usefulness in the development of a neighborhood vision plan.  We will make necessary modifications to the toolkit and before widely distributing it throughout the city.

3. Drafting of Development Guidelines

MPC will encourage and support community groups to develop neighborhood vision plans.  Using these plans, and feedback from users of the primer, we will develop a set of guidelines for the City of Chicago Zoning Ordinance as it relates to neighborhood development.  These guidelines will then be suggested for the overall framework for the zoning code. 

4. Incorporation into the City Zoning Reform Efforts

MPC will advocate for adoption of our suggested guidelines for the reform efforts then for our suggested framework for the zoning ordinance.

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For more than 85 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has partnered with communities, businesses, and governments to unleash the greatness of the Chicago region. We believe that every neighborhood has promise, every community should be heard, and every person can thrive. To tackle the toughest urban planning and development challenges, we create collaborations that change perceptions, conversations—and the status quo. Read more about our work »

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