Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has introduced an ordinance to the City Council that would put in place key changes to the zoning ordinance’s transit-oriented development (TOD) provisions.

The following summarizes five of the key provisions in the introduced ordinance, as of July 29, 2015. We also take a look at some unresolved or uncertain issues that arise from the proposed ordinance. 

Key changes 

  • The introduced ordinance would increase the distance from a Chicago Transit Authority 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 are 600 and 1,200 feet, respectively, under the TOD provisions now in place. 
  • The ordinance would allow a parking reduction of up to 100 percent for residential uses. Previously, only non-residential uses were eligible for a reduction of more than 50 percent. Any reduction (residential or non-residential) greater than 50 percent requires review and approval under a new administrative adjustment process (discussed below), or as a planned development if the project is being processed as an elective or mandatory planned development. 
  • The ordinance modifies the approval process for the FAR increase, height increase and MLA reduction available for TOD projects. The previous ordinance required review and approval as either a Type 1 zoning map amendment (height and MLA) or planned development (FAR). The new ordinance requires all of these to be reviewed as either an administrative adjustment or planned development if the project is already being processed as a planned development. 
  • The ordinance allows an additional .25 FAR for TOD projects in the dash 3 districts in which the developer provides 100 percent of required affordable housing units onsite for a maximum allowed FAR of 4.0. This is in addition to the .25 FAR allowed in the dash 3 districts when the developer provides 50 percent of required affordable housing units onsite for a maximum FAR of 3.75 established by the 2015 Affordable Housing Requirements Ordinance amendment. 
  • The ordinance creates a modified administrative adjustment regime for parking reductions, FAR and height increases, and MLA reductions under the TOD provisions. Under this new process, notices must be sent to all property owners within 100 feet of the subject property, whereas administrative adjustments otherwise require notices only to owners of abutting properties. Approval of TOD-related administrative adjustments requires 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 zoning administrator 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 

  • How the new administrative adjustment 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 the Chicago Department of Transportation have the power to approve or reject projects? 

The above changes are significant and should allow more projects to take advantage of the benefits under the zoning ordinance’s TOD provisions. This summary addresses only the ordinance as it was introduced. Further updates will be provided until and upon final approval of the ordinance.