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)
  • Velocipedian

    Very exciting — no one can deny the demand of car-lite communities when developments like these succeed. Will the increased density translate to more affordable urban living? Maybe developers can also join the bike lobby for more bike paths in place of on-street parking. Thank you, Steve, for this coverage!

  • Brian

    I was curious how many have been built so far. Is 1611 W. Division the only one constructed, or are there others?

  • what_eva

    3400 N Lincoln is still an empty lot, nothing has started there. 3200 N Clark is still DD, nothing has started there. 3401 N Southport appears to be a newish proposal. I’d love to see some of those start moving in the next year.

  • One of the Wicker Park developments in the followup post has received two of its necessary demolition permits (one per existing building) and the new construction permit.

    A second Wicker Park development is in the stage of demolishing three existing buildings. They appear at least 1/3rd finished with that.

    A third Wicker Park development has a sign on the property advertising luxury condos coming soon but I don’t think that’s the TOD part of a multi-building project.

    3401 N Southport just entered the planning process in November with an application for the zoning change.
    830 N Milwaukee passed Plan Commission so that’s good news.

  • Regarding affordable urban living…in these buildings there MIGHT be affordable units when the following are true: (1) there are 10+ units and (a) the property gets a zoning change or (b) the property gets a subsidy (tax incentive or TIF) from the city.

    Then, 10% of the units must be sold at a rate affordable to some income threshold. But, the developer can instead pay into the city’s affordable housing fund (that is used to build affordable housing, usually elsewhere) $100,000 per unit they don’t build (the “in lieu” fee).

    Alderman Moreno has said for multiple projects that he won’t approve a zoning change for a developer that intends to build zero of their required affordable units.

    Back to answering your question. The buildings themselves won’t be affordable to many but they will increase the supply of housing in a high-demand neighborhood which can reduce the pressure placed on housing there by (existing and future) higher-income residents to raise rents/sale prices or convert buildings.

    The best resource for this discussion is City Notes:

  • AC

    Looking at the addresses reported on so far (none in the south side), I’ve got to say that y’all have a very strange conception of “all across Chicago.”

  • Robert J McKendry

    Thanks for your analysis. I was wondering if Robotic parking is being considered for any developments. Looks like it is mostly a development cost issue as well as a positive for Green development. More bike lanes please!

  • JKM13

    Me too. Great proposals, but the proposals have been out there for a long time now…

  • Anne A

    I wonder if we *will* see any of these on the south side in the near future.

  • JacobEPeters

    I would love to see them around new Cermak-McCormick Place Green Line station, and as part of the Chinatown Master Plan developments near the Red Line. I will dream of these types of developments along the Orange Line, because there is so much potential along all of those stations (other than Midway) for something other than strip malls and empty lots.

  • Down around IIT would be great, too — an AWFUL lot of the students who study on that campus get around on bikes constantly, and there’s a lot of stuff in the area that isn’t just the school.

  • JacobEPeters

    hmm, I only didn’t include that because I thought everything within 600 ft was either already redeveloped by CHA or were parking lots owned by De La Salle and the Police Department. But I’ve always thought those lots were a missed opportunity, so I’d be elated if they were available for development.

  • It’s really depressing how much of the land out along the green line (even near stations, though less so than 20 years ago) is vacant. Right by the train. Empty since shortly after Watts.

  • The zoning designation is only one year old, and the process to get from zoning approval to construction usually takes well over a year.

  • Bronzeville has a lot of vacant land eligible under the TOD ordinance. It has a lot of vacant land, period, but most of it is zoned residential so it’s not eligible under the TOD ordinance. That means that even though a developer may want to build near the 51st Street Green Line station, they’ll still have to build 1 parking space per apartment in an R-district.

  • I don’t know if anyone’s proposed an automated or robotic garage in Chicago. The garage proposed for a vacant plot on Milwaukee Avenue across from Irazu restaurant might have had some automation.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    The most recent proposed in lieu fee is $250,000 per unit, so my question is how many of these proposals are an attempt to get approval process started before the increased fees land on developers. And how many of these affordable units will be studios?

    As to your statement that added density in high demand neighborhoods will prevent a raise in rents in existing buildings, can you actually be sure of this after say a 5 year period. Its my opinion that new development can drive up property taxes of all nearby property causing landlords to raise rents. Perhaps a before and after study, short and long term should be made. Or do you have proof on this statement?

  • What advantage does robotic parking bring? In areas where it’s normal to have the car parked by an attendant (customers not expected to drive the car in), it saves you attendant wages, but requires enormous up-front costs for the machinery required.

    I can’t think of any garages in Chicago that work valet-style (give your car to the attendant and leave), so that’s not really a market segment in need of automation here. Usually garages involve the customer driving their car in and parking it themselves, and likewise walking into the garage to retrieve their car personally at the end. This method is much cheaper than either robotic-assisted or valet-style garages for the person owning/running the garage.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    The drawing above reminds me of a bad Holiday Inn circa 1970s

  • The most recent proposed fees are $150-250,000 in downtown (D-districts), $100-125,000 in higher-income Census tracts, and $50,000 in low-moderate income Census tracts.

    The ordinance PDF.

    For your other question, I will get back to you.

  • ajp

    if the city is allowing these developments than it should ban any residential permit parking zones in the area. bc that is exactly what is going to happen. everyone will have a car, than become enraged they cant find parking, than demand the aldercreature give them their own private street parking, and VIOLA another residential permit parking zone.

  • It is almost always a condition of the leases in such developments that their occupants do not qualify for residential permit parking.

    It’s not causing carmageddon (or angry renters) at the development on Division, yet — and their addresses are not eligible for permit parking slips, or guest passes, anywhere near.

  • Brian

    They did indeed intend for robotics in that spot Steven. Interesting old news article:

  • DanielKH

    I think that both of these things can be right. In certain scenarios, new development can create more new demand in its immediate area than it satisfies, at least in the short term; it might do that by a) signaling to the well-to-do that the area is up and coming, or b) bringing in amenities that don’t already exist, like a new cafe or bar.

    In the medium to long term, though, gentrification generally happens with or without flashy new development, as any number of neighborhoods in Chicago and elsewhere have shown. (That is, it happens to neighborhoods on the edge of the already-gentrified zone of the city, as more people are progressively priced out of that area and move into adjacent neighborhoods to be close to social networks, jobs, and amenities.) And once a neighborhood is already on the map for well-to-do buyers, and has the necessary yuppie amenities, new construction is unlikely to cause anyone new to consider moving to the neighborhood, and just serves to increase competition among landlords and sellers, which tends to lower prices.

    The short/medium/long-term dynamics are described pretty well in these pieces, I think:

    And evidence that supply really does reduce prices (and indirectly, segregation) comes from studies like these:

    It also comes directly from the mouths of landlords. One of them actually said at a community meeting about the proposed towers at California and Milwaukee that he was worried about it pushing down his rents; another told Crain’s that he was really happy he owned properties on the North Side, where very little was being built, because he could raise rents with impunity:

  • Here’s a new proposal for 600 S. Clark. Please, no debates over whether this is the South Side or not.

  • tbatts666

    Hats off to the chaps who got this to pass! Looks like a step in the right direction.

    If we want TOD to succeed in the future we probably need to start pricing parking based on demand.

    And eliminate parking requirements all together. Let the free market determine how much parking we need.

  • Bernd

    I lived there many years ago for a good number of years and your comment is baffling to me.

    The green line cuts through the middle of campus N-S. To the north is the remaining state street CHA housing projects, the post office, and commercial properties over by Michigan ave. And of course the remaining mansion and the townhomes built behind it. To the south is the Chicago PD HQ and the new development where Stateway Gardens once stood. Nestled in there to south east is a High School and the name escapes me at the moment. East of the tracks is the residential side of campus and an existing residential neighborhood beyond that. IIT developed it’s parking lot on the east side of Michigan ave many years ago now. The Illinois college of optometry takes up the block between 32nd and 33rd. North and East of Campus is South Commons, a 1960s urban renewal apartment complex of high and low rise buildings. To the west is the academic side of Campus.

    The west side of campus is bounded by the metra tracks. It only took 20 or 30 years to get a station. Beyond the metra tracks is the dan-ryan and the red line. Beyond that is entirely built out residential/commercial bridgeport neighborhood, armour square park and of course comiskey park.

    The only open land is IIT owned parking directly against the green line and internal campus open green spaces. Oh and what used to be East 32nd street, but I don’t think that can be built upon because utilities still run underground through there. There’s comiskey’s parking lots, but I think they make money off them.

    The stations for both el lines is at 35th street, the southern boarder of campus.

    The parking lot along state and the green line tracks south of 33rd was built over with dorms some years ago.

    Now what are you planning on tearing down? Or confiscating IIT property for private development? There are some small vacant lots scattered east of Michigan, but nothing big enough for an apartment building, just places where homes once stood. But we are talking at least four blocks from the green line station.

    The land is vacant because it had been occupied by dilapidated 19th and early 20th century structures.* (found a decent summary of things here: ) The famous apartment building at 34th was the Mecca Flats.

    Government had the CHA high rises they moved people into on the west side of state street. Those that weren’t so poor ended up in South Commons, Prairie shores, etc. There was no reason to develop property against the el because of the economic conditions and the trains were horribly loud. The land was also highly undesirable being across the street from CHA highrises with a lot of crime.

    The reconstruction the green line in ~’93 quieted it considerably but train speeds were increased bringing the noise level back up almost to what it was. The IIT dorms near the tracks as well as the building under the tube had to be especially constructed to suppress the noise. In E1 (3210 south state/10 west 32nd st) experiments had to have accelerometers attached to the windows to turn data taking off as the train went by.


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