Chicago Unveils Plans for Zoning Remapping Strategy - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Chicago Unveils Plans for Zoning Remapping Strategy

Deputy Planning Commissioner Sam Assefa outlines the City's plans for zoning remapping, expected to occur over the next 12 to 16 months.

In the next 12 to 16 months, five priority zoning remapping issues will be resolved by Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development. Nearly four months since the passage of Chicago’s new zoning ordinance and less than a month and a half before it goes into full effect, Deputy Commissioner Sam Assefa informed a capacity crowd of land use attorneys and planners of the City’s intentions. Gathered together at the Standard Club of Chicago, the audience was convened by the law firm of Shefsky and Froelich to hear a presentation from their latest hire, former zoning administrator Ed Kus. Mr. Assefa’s remarks were made as an introduction to the presentation.

The Metropolitan Planning Council has itself been working in communities across the city to aid residents and aldermen with mapping solutions as well. (Click here for more information.) The City’s approach will target priorities which can be mapped largely from City Hall with input from aldermen.

First, the City will apply the new parks and open space (POS) district to all existing parks, cemeteries, forest preserves and nature centers. Open space in Chicago is zoned the same land adjacent to it, sometimes allowing cemeteries to be sold for residential purposes without so much as a public hearing. Furthermore, the new POS district (a key MPC recommendation, click here for more information) will affect park buildings and facilities as well, providing a more rational and uniform set of guidelines for their development than occurred when parks were zoned as factories or single-family homes.

The transportation district (T) is intended to preserve rights-of-way currently used for transportation purposes (think rail roads) from being converted to other uses, thereby losing the connective benefits of these linear stretches of land. Even if a freight rail line is no longer in service, the corridor could be developed as a bike trail, busway or other transportation-related use. Once these rights-of-way are lost it is very difficult to reclaim or acquire land necessary for similar development.

Manufacturing in Chicago is not dead. Rather, it is very much alive in the City’s twenty-one industrial corridors which were developed with community input in the early nineties. It’s time to update the boundaries of these corridors to reflect changes in development patterns and to retain these lands dedicated to industrial preservation and jobs.

The last two priority remapping areas go hand in hand--the new P designation for pedestrian-oriented shopping districts and the B2 which is a dynamic district that allows either residential or retail on the ground floor. Where neighborhood retail is thriving and the character of the street favors pedestrians over cars, the new P designation is just the ticket. A P street is characterized by a high concentration of continuous street fronting, stores and restaurants with minimal curb cuts and driveways. Many of Chicago ’s local tourist hot spots are P streets including Chinatown (Wentworth from Cermak to 24 th Place ) and Little Italy (Taylor from Carpenter to Racine ). But lesser known neighborhood centers also make the cut, for example Roscoe from Damen to Leavitt in the Roscoe Village neighborhood is a prime example. But what happens at the edge of these thriving markets? That’s where the B2 comes into play.

The B2 district allows either residential or commercial on the base of a structure thereby allowing the market to determine the best use. The old code did not have this flexibility resulting in either vacant storefronts where excess supply of commercial was located or lost opportunities where homes abutted a commercial strip. Picture a thriving node of retail where commercial uses are required on the ground floor. A quarter mile from its center though, the market may not be as strong yet. That’s where a B2 designation is appropriate. When the market gets to the point that retail can be supported on the ground floor, the use will be allowed to change without the hassle of applying for a zoning change.

All this mapping is expected to be done in the next twelve to eighteen months with most aldermen having draft plans in their hand as early as June 2005. The Metropolitan Planning Council will continue to work with selected communities on their remapping challenges and looks forward to collaborating with the City in other areas as well.

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