Testimony on proposed changes to the 1957 zoning ordinance to the City of Chicago’s Committee on Zoning - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Testimony on proposed changes to the 1957 zoning ordinance to the City of Chicago’s Committee on Zoning

MPC Vice President for External Relations Peter Skosey suggests several amendments to the business, commercial and manufacturing chapter of the Committee's draft zoning ordinance, including expanding the number of pedestrian-oriented streets and increasin

The Metropolitan Planning Council thanks Chairman Banks and the Committee for this opportunity to comment on Module 2. The Mayor’s Zoning Reform Commission proposes critical changes to the zoning ordinance in this module to preserve the character and economic viability of Chicago’s business, commercial and manufacturing districts. Among the many positive changes, the Commission has developed criteria based on the character of business districts on use and permits housing on the ground floor to provide some market flexibility where the city may be over zoned for business or commercial use. The Commission also takes critical steps to preserve the future development of transportation facilities by limiting land use in these districts and requiring review prior to any re-zoning. Changes to the overlay district process are properly focused on preserving special district treatment to areas that possess unique physical characteristics. MPC commends the City for its work on this module and offers what amount to minor changes today. MPC recommends four changes to Module 2 and one procedural change for the Committee to consider today.

Recommended Changes to Module 2
  • The Commission has taken a most important step to preserve Chicago’s shopping districts by creating special criteria for pedestrian-oriented streets, and prohibiting curb cuts and other auto-oriented uses. However, using very strict criteria, the Commission identified only eleven miles of Chicago’s 700 miles of business-zoned streets as pedestrian-oriented. Surely, some of the remaining 689 miles could be classified and preserved as pedestrian-friendly areas as well? MPC urges the Commission to loosen some of its criteria, study the impact of expanding the list of pedestrian-oriented streets, and devise a process whereby other pedestrian-oriented streets may be designated following adoption of the new ordinance. For example, if a street meets five of the six criteria, it should be considered for pedestrian-oriented status. This will ensure that predominantly pedestrian-oriented streets are preserved and strengthened in Chicago’s neighborhoods.
  • MPC also recommends striking the sixth criteria, which suggests that a pedestrian-oriented street have only a few vacant stores. A primarily pedestrian-oriented street with a few vacant stores may only suffer from a temporary market condition, and therefore should not automatically be prohibited from designation as a pedestrian-oriented street.
  • MPC recommends that when pedestrian-oriented streets are within a quarter mile of CTA rail stations, the City should establish some minimum floor area ratios based on the average density of the surrounding neighborhood. This will reinforce the viability of the transit node, and ensure that the pedestrian-oriented district remains an active and vibrant part of the city.
  • In the current draft, the Commission proposes that no front setback be required in business and commercial districts. However, many businesses may want to establish a front setback to accommodate parking in front of their establishments, which could result in a sea of parking lots and uneven developments. Instead, the City should prohibit front set backs except for allowed intrusions and require a build-to line, except where B or C districts are adjacent to residential properties.

Recommended Procedural Change

MPC recommends an important process change for the Committee to consider before the end of its proceedings today. MPC urges the Committee not to vote on the residential module today or any subsequent module in the months ahead. Instead, the Committee should hold all modules until they have been through the public hearing process. The Committee should then review the zoning ordinance in its entirety to ensure that all of the pieces of the ordinance work together as intended. Ultimately, the Committee should hold one final public hearing on the entire code before voting on it and submitting it to City Council. Zoning ordinances are complex and regulations are often dispersed throughout several chapters. The process we propose will ensure that the Commission’s and Committee’s hard work will not lead to confusion and needless litigation as a result of chapters that do not work together. MPC attaches the letter to the Chairman and the Committee on this matter, dated February 11, 2003.

MPC commends the Commission for its innovative and hard work on the new ordinance and looks forward to subsequent opportunities to comment. Thank you.

Questions concerning this testimony may be directed to Peter Skosey, Vice President of External Relations, at 312-863-6004.


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