Land-Use and Zoning in Chicago

If I'm rehabbing my home or building, does it require zoning relief?
The City’s zoning ordinance dictates the size, the height, the amount of space, the required open space, etc., you can build. Your architect should be able to tell you the zoning requirements based on the plans for building permit submission, but often if you are improving a property with new construction or major addition, you need to be aware that zoning laws may restrict what you can build. If you are planning on building on the lot after closing, make sure the necessary zoning entitlements are in place to do so before purchasing the property.
What types of restrictions might zoning laws create?
Depending on the kind of building and intended use, whether you are building a single-family home, multi-unit residence, a multi-use building, or commercial property in the City, you need to be aware that the project will be limited depending on the zoning designation for the lot/lots. A home in a residential neighborhood, for example, will be zoned either: RS1, RS2, RS3, RT3.5, RT4, RM4.5, RM5, RM5.5 or RM6. The size of the building and the kind of residence you can build will be determined based on the zoning district in which it falls. As a rule of thumb, the larger the number (i.e. RM6 is the highest), the more units and square footage you can construct.
Can I run my store or office out of my house?
The Chicago Zoning Ordinance divides the City into residential, business, and commercial districts for the most part. What you can do with your property will mostly depend on the district in which it falls. A residential district, for example, may not be entirely restricted to living and residential use, but it is not generally going to allow for traditional commercial activity. Make sure you are aware of the permitted uses in your zoning designation before embarking on any kind of business venture.
What are my options if I want to build outside the Chicago Zoning Ordinance?
Just because the Ordinance does not permit your plan that does not necessarily mean that your project is finished. If you are looking to build or conduct a use that is not permitted as of right, meaning the Zoning Ordinance prohibits it, then you may be able to obtain zoning relief. The most common types of zoning relief are variations, administrative adjustments, special use permits planned developments, zoning map changes. The attorneys at Braun & Rich can walk you through these different types of zoning reliefs, but all will require special standards that you must be able to prove. With that said, the determination of whether you are able to obtain the right zoning or zoning relief for your property is not guaranteed. Be aware that there is always a risk at trying to obtain zoning entitlements.
How do I obtain the necessary zoning entitlements to construct my project under the City of Chicago Zoning Ordinance?
The City will make an initial determination of whether your project as presented is denied for zoning reasons. Of course, you and your team will know what that decision is before you submit for plans and what route you will need to pursue in order to try and achieve the zoning relief you are seeking, but you do need the City to officially deny the plans before you can go through the zoning process. Procedurally, you might be required to submit for an administrative adjustment if the relief sought is not significant. The City’s Zoning Administrator would then make the determination herself as to the appropriateness of the request. If you need a variation or special use permit then you will be required to present your case before the Zoning Board of Appeals. If you require a map amendment or planned development, then you should expect to be present before the City’s Plan Commission, City’s Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards, and ultimately City Council. These example are not exclusive, there are other zoning relief requests that can be made so consult your team to see what needs to be requested.
Are there any other considerations other than the Zoning Ordinance?
Yes. Arguably, the most important consideration is the impact on the community and the community’s input on your project.
How does the community impact the process?
Of course the Zoning Ordinance will drive the process; however, the practical reality is that zoning matters are not confined to the City’s Municipal Code. Because of the dense nature of urban living, you must seek support from the local alderman and community before attempting to make your case before the respective City entity. The City will look to the alderman on your proposal and their opinion will greatly affect your outcome. It is important that you reach out to the alderman of the ward in which you are building and find out what their community process requires if any. You also need to make sure the neighbors around the property support your plans. If your project affects the neighbors in any negative way, then you might be looking at a problem that requires skilled guidance to overcome.
Are there community requirements not specified in the Ordinance?
The community may dictate that your project has certain items that the City or its Code does not. For example, the community might demand additional parking or green space or implement use restrictions that you might not necessarily find in the Zoning Ordinance. You might be required to enter into a community agreement or restrict the land through a deed restriction or covenant, condition, and restriction of record to ease the community’s concerns and win their support. These issues vary from ward to ward.
How long will the process take to get my zoning relief?
There are a number of factors that are in place that will dictate your timeline. First of all, you need to know what relief you require. Are you going for a map change or planned development? If so, then that is dictated by the Chicago Plan Commission’s hearing schedule, the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards, and then City Council meetings. Those are typically monthly meetings. A variation or special use permit requires presentation before the Zoning Board of Appeals, which meets monthly as well, but whose agenda is often filled quickly. There are other zoning relief options that might be applicable to your property so knowing what you need is the first step. Second, you need to make sure the community process is wrapped up before presenting to the City. You do not want to spend your time, effort and money on a project and bring it before the necessary City entity only to find out that there is a line of protestors waiting to speak out against the project. Let us help guide you through this process. Remember, the determination of whether you are able to obtain the right zoning for your property is not guaranteed. Be aware that there is always a risk of trying to obtain zoning entitlements.

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