Chicago’s New Zoning Code: In Effect … or Not? - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Chicago’s New Zoning Code: In Effect … or Not?

November 1st was the target date for Chicago's new zoning code to kick in, but the code's popularity among city officials prompted the city to move the effective date up by several months.

On May 26, 2004, Chicago's City Council approved the text of the city’s first new zoning code in 47 years, but the effective date for the new code has been the source of some confusion. The original ordinance adopted the new code with an effective date of Nov. 1, 2004. However, amidst requests from aldermen to begin using the new code, the city recently instituted a transition period that began on Aug. 1.

The transition period, adopted by City Council ordinance on July 21, will last approximately three months. Between Aug.1 and Nov. 1, those seeking development applications, re-applications or requests for permit renewal or reinstatement after Aug. 1, 2004 may choose to use the old code or the new code. Developers seeking requests after Nov. 1, 2004 will be required to adhere to the city’s new zoning code and the previous code will be eliminated. This transition period applies throughout the city, except for applications in the downtown area, which cannot use the new code until Nov. 1, 2004.

Although the text portion of the new code is completed, the mapping portion of the effort is still under way. Zoning maps illustrate which areas are governed by various rules in the code. While not all areas will require new maps, several newly created districts under the new code will need to be appropriately placed throughout the city. Until the new maps are completed, the new code contains a conversion chart that matches zoning districts under the old code to zoning districts under the new code.

The new code far exceeds its predecessor in its attempts to protect unique areas such as pedestrian zones, historic districts and six corner intersections that characterize Chicago. The code also surpasses the old code in its efforts to encourage affordable housing development with density bonuses downtown, determine parking needs appropriate to each neighborhood, and protect valuable open space. The code also governs building use and scale, but goes a step further than the previous code with setback requirements, front and back yard requirements, and curb cut restrictions in areas served by Chicago ’s vast alley system.

The new code is also far easier to read than the previous code, last updated in 1957. Maps and diagrams help clarify portions of the text, while conversion charts help applicants translate old code requirements into the new. The new code is available in its entirety on the Internet, at:

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