Chicago’s City Council has approved an ordinance that makes key changes to the Zoning Ordinance’s transit-oriented development (TOD) provisions. 

In this alert, we update you on those changes, which occurred between its introduction to the council and final passage of the ordinance on September 24, 2015.   

Final ordinance summary 

  • The approved ordinance retains the provisions that increase the distance from a Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) or Metra station entrance eligible for TOD parking reductions, floor area ratio (FAR) and height increases and minimum lot area per dwelling unit (MLA) reductions. Properties within 1,320 feet (1/4 mile) of a CTA or Metra station entrance or within 2,640 feet (1/2 mile) on a pedestrian (retail) street are eligible. These distances were previously 600 and 1,200 feet, respectively. 
  • The approved ordinance eliminates the limits on the percentage of efficiency units allowed for MLA purposes for developments within 660 feet of a CTA or Metra station in B- or C- Districts. This is a new provision that was not included in the introduced ordinance. 
  • Parking reductions of up to 100 percent for residential uses are allowed in the approved ordinance. Under the previous TOD provisions, only non-residential uses were eligible a reduction of more than 50 percent. From a procedural standpoint, however, instead of review as an administrative adjustment, as provided in the introduced ordinance, the parking reduction must be approved as a special use (that is subject to new special use standards set forth below) by the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) or as a Type I Zoning Map Amendment or planned development by the City Council. 
  • Projects seeking to utilize the FAR increase, height increase and MLA reduction available for TOD projects must (1) provide no more than one parking space per dwelling unit and (2) satisfy the new criteria for a special use. These two requirements were not in the previous or introduced ordinances. Projects utilizing these benefits must be reviewed and approved by the City Council as a Type 1 zoning map amendment or planned development. The introduced ordinance allowed for these to also be reviewed as administrative adjustments, but this provision was eliminated from the approved ordinance. 
  • The approved ordinance retains the provision allowing an additional .50 FAR for TOD projects in -3 districts if the developer provides 100 percent of the required affordable housing units on-site (i.e., up to a 4.0 FAR). The previous TOD provisions allowed a .50 FAR increase in -3 districts, subject to review as a planned development. The 2015 Affordable Requirements Ordinance permitted an additional .25 FAR increase to 3.75 in -3 districts that provided 50 percent of the required affordable units on-site. The new TOD provisions go a step further and allow an additional .25 FAR increase to a total 4.0 FAR if 100 percent of the required affordable units are provided on-site and the project is approved as set forth above. 
  • The approved ordinance requires that parking reductions for residential uses over 50 percent be approved as a special use by the ZBA. Further, FAR and height increases and MLA reductions under the TOD provisions must meet the new standards for special uses seeking parking reductions. The standards for approval of TOD-related special uses are largely the same as those in the introduced ordinance. Specifically, they require determinations that: the project complies with the standards for pedestrian streets, even if the project is not located along a pedestrian street; the project complies with the Transit Friendly Development Guide: Station Area Typology and other plans and guidelines adopted by the Chicago Plan Commission; the applicant will promote public transit and alternatives to car ownership through car sharing programs or bike-share programs; and the requested reduction will be offset by enhancements to the pedestrian environment not otherwise required, such as sidewalk widening, decorative pavement, trees, etc. The ZBA must also consider the availability of on-street parking in the vicinity and may require the applicant to submit a travel demand management plan prepared by a qualified professional. 

Open issues 

The open issues from the introduced ordinance remain unanswered and are as follows: 

  • How the new special use regime will be administered remains unknown. The practical application of many of the standards is somewhat uncertain. For example, if a bike or car sharing service is not interested in entering a certain area or market, are developers essentially unable to take advantage of the TOD provisions there? What type and scale of pedestrian enhancements will be required to satisfy the requirement? How will availability of off-street parking be analyzed? How can a developer implement a travel demand management plan? 
  • What process will be required for the review and approval of projects taking advantage of the new provisions? Will CDOT have the power to approve or reject projects?