An ordinance representing the culmination of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s legislative efforts to disrupt Chicago’s racial segregation and blunt aldermen’s powers to block affordable proposals in their own wards is finally set for a vote on Tuesday. But negotiations between the mayor’s administration and powerful aldermen have defanged the plan of some of its sharpest provisions.
The latest draft of Lightfoot’s “Connected Communities Ordinance” is set to lead off a packed 10 a.m. meeting of the City Council Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards on Tuesday. The committee is also scheduled to approve an updated suite of heating requirements for apartment buildings and will take up dozens of private zoning applications.
Refined through months of negotiations and workshops with policy nonprofits like Elevated Chicago and the Metropolitan Planning Council, Lightfoot’s housing department formally introduced the Connected Communities Ordinance (O2022-2000) to the City Council last month. Lightfoot’s administration pitched the 31-page zoning overhaul as a legislative follow-through of the “Equitable Transit-Oriented Development” policy roadmap officials proposed in 2021 to expand dense, transit-adjacent housing construction beyond the city’s hottest neighborhoods.
- New Lightfoot housing mega-ordinance pitches citywide whack at housing segregation, aldermanic prerogative
- Lightfoot promises to push forward on ‘essential’ housing density ordinance facing uneasy City Council
“We are pleased and believe that we have an opportunity here to take a big step forward for the city in terms of equitable transit-oriented development, promoting economic growth, safety and inclusionary housing,” Chicago Department of Housing policy director Daniel Hertz told The Daily Line on Monday. “It’s exciting.”
The ordinance would represent the third and largest-ever expansion of the city’s transit-oriented development rules, which boost height allowances and slash parking requirements for new developments proposed in business or commercial zoning districts near transit stations. The existing rules kick in within a quarter-mile of train stations and some bus routes, but Lightfoot is proposing to more than double its footprint to within half-mile of any CTA or Metra train station and within a quarter-mile of high-capacity bus corridors.
“The provisions in the ordinance are a response to a demand from communities across Chicago that people did not want more little tweaks,” said Roberto Requejo, executive director of Elevated Chicago. “This ordinance has been tweaked and tweaked and tweaked, and we said no tweaks anymore. It has to be comprehensive. It has to be transformational.”
The vast expansion of the transit-oriented development designation will “make a huge difference” for neighborhoods on the city’s South and West Sides where developers already struggle to build, Requejo said.
The ordinance would also turn the city’s policy sharply to the benefit of pedestrians and transit users at the expense of drivers by setting the city’s first ever cap on new parking in transit-oriented development zones, prohibiting more than one new space for every two new apartments. It would also require developers to score approval from city planning officials before building car-centric infrastructure, like curb cuts or surface parking lots, in any new development in a transit-oriented development zone.
Requejo called the provisions critical to making Chicago’s streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists. He cited city data showing that 83 people were killed by drivers within a half-mile of transit stations in 2021.
“These are supposed to be areas that people use to walk to transit, and yet they are completely car-centric,” he said.
While the ordinance introduced last month was praised by housing and transit policy wonks, it got a cooler reception in the City Council as aldermen grappled with the swipes it proposed to take at the unwritten rule of “aldermanic prerogative” in zoning decisions. Especially controversial was a provision that called to allow the construction of three-unit residential buildings by right in any wealthy neighborhood that overlapped a transit-oriented development zone.
Ald. Harry Osterman (48), who chairs the City Council Committee on Housing and Real Estate, told The Daily Line last month that the de-facto ban on single-family-only zoning within a half-mile of transit stations was a “major concern.”
“I’ve got concerns about how it’s going to impact single-family home areas in my community,” Osterman said. “We went through a recent down-zone in Andersonville where we had two-flats that were being bought up [and] torn down, and very expensive three-flats were being put there. That doesn’t add affordability, and it creates density…my community is one of the most dense in the city.”
City housing officials have argued that newly built condos, while out of reach to most Chicagoans, are still far more affordable than the kinds of newly built single-family homes that are legal almost everywhere.
Ald. Tom Tunney (44), who chairs the City Council zoning committee where the ordinance was referred, also said last month that he was leery of the three-flat provision. He told The Daily Line last month that the provision “refutes the predictability of the zoning code” by treating RS-3 residential zones effectively as multi-family zones.
Osterman and Tunney both represent relatively wealthy wards on the city’s north lakefront that are home to some of the city’s priciest single-family homes.
Following a month of negotiations with the City Council, housing officials nixed the provision allowing three-flats near transit.
Requejo said he and other proponents of the proposal were disappointed to see the provision dropped. But he knew the change “was going to be hard to pass,” he said.
“When you demand a transformational ordinance from the city, and one that’s as comprehensive as this one, all of us knew there was going to be a negotiation process,” Requejo said. “We knew some of these provisions would have to be limited or tweaked, and some, unfortunately, would have to be dropped.”
The amended ordinance up for a vote in the zoning committee on Tuesday includes the following other updates from the original proposal:
- A provision that would have allowed developers who propose affordable apartment projects to demand a City Council hearing on their proposal within six months was extended to 10 months. New language also added a requirement that the developer host a community meeting before they may trigger the rule.
- The requirement for developers to build pedestrian-oriented infrastructure into new buildings near transit would not apply to building rehabilitations or adaptive reuse projects, as it would have in the original proposal. Instead, the rule would only be triggered by new construction.
- The “anti-deconversion” rules that set the city’s first-ever floor on residential zoning in Pilsen and the 606 area last year would be expanded only to gentrifying neighborhoods labeled in the city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance as “community preservation areas.” The original proposal would have also extended the rules to already-wealthy neighborhoods designated by the housing department as “inclusionary areas.”
The amended proposal is still likely to face some headwinds and debate in committee on Tuesday. But Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22), who signed onto the legislation as a co-sponsor, said Friday that he is “hopeful that we’re going to get this passed.”
“We have to put the incentives in via city government in order to push the private sector to act more responsibly when it comes to providing affordable housing,” Rodriguez said. “And I think this speaks to a much more inclusive transportation system that will provide some relief to some people who walk and bike in the city.”
The zoning committee is also scheduled to take up the following items during its meeting on Tuesday:
O2022-1752 — A trailer ordinance to the proposal (O2022-1753) from Ald. Maria Hadden (49) that passed the City Council last month adding new cooling requirements for large apartment buildings. Hadden agreed last month to scoop out one provision regulating the schedule of when buildings with “two-pipe” heating and cooling systems switch from cooling to heating because it became a source of dispute. The ordinance due for a vote on Tuesday aims to address the outstanding issue by pushing the requirement for buildings to supply heating from Sept. 15 to Oct. 31.
A2022-101 — Appointment of Angela Brooks as a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals to replace Jolene Saul, who has resigned.
O2022-1791 — Historical landmark designation for the Paseo Boricua Gateway Flags at Division Street and Artesian Avenue in the 26th Ward.
O2022-1792 Historical landmark designation for Monumental Baptist Church at 729 E. Oakwood Blvd. in the 4th Ward.
O2022-1896 — A proposal by John Mangan and Robert Mangan to build a six-story mixed-use building with 24 residential units above ground-floor commercial space at 3310 N. Lincoln Ave. in the 47th Ward. They are separately proposing (O2022-1964) to build a four-story, 17-unit residential building next-door at 1654 W. School St. in the 47th Ward.
O2022-1909 — A proposal by Central Park Foods, Inc. to repurpose a vacant 34,562-square-foot commercial building at 3552 W. Grand Ave. to open a new grocery store.
O2022-1895 — A proposal by Robert Mosky to build a five-story mixed-use building with 40 residential units atop 4,745 square feet of ground-floor commercial space at 2405 W. Grand Ave. in the 27th Ward.
O2022-1952 — A proposal by Inergy Nightclub to establish a tavern with a food license and live entertainment at 3350 S. Kedzie Ave. in the 22nd Ward.
O2019-1355 — A proposal by Stanislaw Chodak to build a new four-story, 20-unit residential building at 1815-21 N. California Ave. in the 1st Ward.
O2022-1955 — A proposal by Chicago Title Land Trust No. 1084272 to allow a roller rink as a recreational use at 1122 E. 87th St. in the 8th Ward.