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Parking-Lite Residences Sprouting All Across Chicago

Proposed building at 830 N Milwaukee Avenue. Rendering by bKL Architecture

The resurgent downtown economy and the growing demand for car-lite living, both in Chicago and nationally, have spurred an apartment-building boom that's transforming neighborhoods citywide. Many of these apartments are rising along the Chicago Transit Authority's rail lines, partially thanks to a recent change to the city's zoning ordinance that has made it easier to build parking-lite buildings near transit.

The city's "transit-oriented development" ordinance, enacted in fall 2013, revises the zoning code to reduce minimum car parking requirements for new or renovated buildings within 600 feet (about one city block) of a train station. That radius extends to 1,200 feet, or about two city blocks, if that distance is along a city-designed Pedestrian Streets, which are streets where zoning rules also encourage developments that enliven the sidewalks. Instead of the usual rule that requires one car parking space for every single housing unit, the new law requires half as many spaces for housing and no spaces for shops or offices on site. Developers can ask the city's Department of Planning and Development and Zoning Board of Appeals for an exemption to build even fewer parking spaces.

Parking requirements impose huge fixed costs on developments, making it difficult to build -- especially on small city lots. The parking spaces that result are often leased or sold at a loss, and sometimes go completely empty -- costs that get passed down to the building's future occupants, whether or not they own cars.

The ordinance offers relief from parking requirements in mixed-use areas citywide, but another incentive that allows transit-oriented developments to build more small apartments rather than fewer large apartments only within a very small slice of the city. Not only do the sites have to be practically next to a train station, they must also be zoned "dash 3" (e.g., a zone like B3-3 or C1-3), which are zones found only in a few areas that already have high densities. Developers who want to build transit-oriented small apartments outside a "dash 3" zone must first apply for a zoning change to the right zoning, which requires approvals from the alderman, the Chicago Plan Commission, the city council, and possibly the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Despite the law's limited applicability, 15 transit-oriented developments have been proposed just in its first year. Streetsblog has previously reported on six of these (see links at the end of this post), and profiles of four more across the city are included below. We'll take a look at five more, all of which are in Wicker Park, in another post tomorrow.

Updated December 31, 2014 to clarify applicability of parking reductions and small-apartment regulation.

3401-09 N. Southport

    • Lakeview
    • Southport Brown Line station (renovated to expand train capacity in 2009)
    • 33 housing units
    • 6 parking spaces
    • 82 percent reduction from the parking requirement (0.18 parking spaces per residence)

NKASS Company and Ultima Properties are requesting a zoning change to build a four-story mixed-use building with 33 residences and six parking spaces. The development would replace two existing single-story retail buildings along the popular Southport retail corridor, including the current site of the Rise sushi bar. The new retail entrances would face the CTA station, while residents would enter around the corner [PDF]. TOD zoning would ordinarily require 17 car parking spaces, but the developer is seeking a Planned Development so that the developer can negotiate with the city zoning administrator for more leeway at this highly walkable location.

1210 N. Clark Street

    • Gold Coast
    • Clark/Division Red Line station (currently under renovation)
    • Unknown housing units, parking spaces

A new 35-story tower could be built atop a rebuilt Jewel-Osco at the northwest corner of Clark Street and Division Street. (Developments in congested, transit-rich downtown have benefitted from lower parking requirements since 2004, and now can also claim an additional TOD reduction.) Jewel chose Fifield Realty Corporation to develop the site back in May 2012, a move which Crain's reported "could liven up one of the few pockets of the posh Gold Coast viewed by residents as unsafe at night." The CTA and the Chicago Department of Transportation unveiled part of that makeover this summer, with one newly renovated entrance and part of a newly renovated mezzanine. The plans are slowly moving forward: A community meeting was held one month ago.

932 W. Dakin Street

    • Uptown
    • Sheridan Red Line station (to be renewed as part of Red Ahead)
    • 18 housing units
    • 9 parking spaces
    • 50 percent reduction (0.5 parking spaces per residence)

Developer Andy Ahitow, who co-founded Chicago Apartment Finders, plans to fit 18 units into a brick building currently owned by SeamCraft, with nine car parking spaces behind, according to DNAinfo. The building is half a block away from the Sheridan Red Line station. Ahitow said that the nine spaces "fit perfectly in the back" and that 18 spaces would "destroy the ground floor," requiring substantial demolition to accommodate more cars. A similar problem faced some Logan Square restaurants before the transit-oriented development ordinance: The city's zoning required so many on-site car parking spaces that the only solutions were either to demolish perfectly good existing buildings, or to pursue an extreme zoning change.

830 N. Milwaukee

    • West Town
    • Chicago Blue Line station (to be rehabilitated with Your New Blue)
    • 47 housing units
    • 24 parking spaces
    • 49 percent reduction (0.5 parking spaces per residence)

Last week, the Chicago Plan Commission approved a zoning change to permit this five-story apartment building at the junction of Milwaukee Avenue and Elston Avenue. The building will replace what's now an auto repair shop and parking lot, which have a great view of an intersection that was recently reconfigured to be much more bike friendly. There will be space for two or three small shops in 3,000 square feet of retail space.

The six developments we've previously reported on:

    • 1819 W. Montrose (Montrose Green): 24 units, 10 parking spaces (Montrose Brown Line station)
    • 3400 N. Lincoln: 31-48 units, 9 parking spaces (Paulina Brown Line station)
    • 1611 W. Division: 99 units with 0 parking spaces for residents and 15 for retail visitors; this was a pilot that predated the 2013 ordinance (Division Blue Line station)
    • 2211 N. Milwaukee: 120 units with 60 parking spaces, retail (California Blue Line station)
    • 3200 N. Clark: 90 units with 39 parking spaces, grocery store (Belmont Red/Brown/Purple Line station)
    • 2293 N. Milwaukee: 254 units with 72 parking spaces, ground-floor retail (California Blue Line station)

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