City Needs Community Plans - Metropolitan Planning Council

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City Needs Community Plans

A letter to the editor of the Chicago Sun-Times

A recent zoning change advanced by the City Council Committee on Zoning (''Plan would halt Halsted condos,'' Metro, Dec. 2) does more than preserve Halsted's popular business-entertainment district from encroaching residential developments; it illustrates that zoning alone is a poor vehicle for protecting Chicago's neighborhood assets.

Zoning changes such as this one are reactive moves at best; occurring after a problem has already emerged in a community. In this case, condominiums have already threatened the viability of the entertainment district, prompting Ald. Helen Shiller and Tom Tunney to spearhead the zoning changes.

A more effective preventative action would take the form of community plans. Residents along with their aldermen would decide what community residents want to see happen in their neighborhoods and cement them in a document to guide development. Plans allow residents to determine where housing should be concentrated, where neighborhood retail should dominate, and where parks and open spaces are needed before developments come along that threaten the character of the community. Zoning can then be tailored to match the plan. By establishing where the community wants to see different types of development occur ahead of time, developers would gain a measure of predictability in the development process, decreasing the time spent acquiring zoning changes on a case-by-case basis.

The city is engaged in crafting a plan for the downtown area. Its purpose is to accommodate new growth patterns that have altered the character of the downtown, plan for environmental sustainability and improve transportation connections. And the zoning rewrite includes a special section for the downtown zoning to reinforce the policies in the plan.

Chicago's neighborhoods should receive the same careful forethought that the city affords the downtown area. This would reduce the need for last-minute zoning changes to mitigate already emerging problems such as those cited in the Halsted district.

Peter Skosey, vice president,
external relations,
Metropolitan Planning Council

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