On January 23, 2019, the Chicago City Council approved a significant amendment to the transit-oriented development provisions of the Zoning Ordinance. Prior to the change, the Chicago Zoning Ordinance, through increases and reductions of certain development standards, allowed for larger, more dense buildings on properties in close proximity to CTA or Metra train stations. Under the amendment, these development enhancements are now available for properties that are on or near high traffic CTA bus lines. The change promises to open up greater development opportunities across the City.

The City’s transit-oriented development law was created in 2013 to foster pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods and to promote density around public transit stations. The 2013 law offered increased development limits for properties that were within a quarter mile of a transit station (or one half mile of a transit station for properties on a Pedestrian Street) and were zoned for business, commercial or manufacturing uses with a floor area ratio of 3.0. The benefits included higher floor area ratios, increased height limits, reduced minimum lot area per dwelling unit standards and reduced residential parking requirements. To further promote development near train stations, the City later eliminated the caps on efficiency units for properties within 660 feet of a train station. This change furthered the opportunity for even greater residential density around train stations.

In exchange for these benefits, developers were required to limit off-street parking ratios to no greater than one space per dwelling unit. In addition, developers could be required to provide half to all of any required affordable housing units on the property. In addition, the City required that developers taking advantage of transit-oriented development benefit process any zoning changes through a planned development, Type I zoning amendment or, in some instances, a special use permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Capitalizing on the success of the 2013 legislation, the City amended the law to extend the increased development limits applicable to properties near train stations to 20 high-ridership CTA bus routes along eight major corridors across Chicago. Some of those corridors include Chicago Avenue between Fairbanks Court to Austin Boulevard, large portions of Sheridan and Lake Shore Drive, and Western Avenue between Forster Avenue and 79th Street. Large areas along high traffic streets on the south, west and north sides are also included. The City’s broadening of the transit-oriented development benefit promises to open up new development opportunities across the City, add greatly needed new housing stock, generate new retail opportunities and enhance CTA ridership.