Emanuel’s Proposed Ordinance Would Dramatically Enlarge TOD Districts

The proposed mixed-use residential building at 3400 N Lincoln Avenue would have 31 to 48 units and nine car parking spaces. Rendering: Centrum Partners
Rendering of a mixed-used TOD building currently under construction by the Paulina Brown Line stop.

Last week, the Metropolitan Planning Council launched the “Grow Chicago” campaign to promoted transit-oriented development. The city’s current TOD ordinance, passed in 2013, reduces the minimum parking requirement and allows additional density for new and renovated buildings located within 600 feet of a rapid transit stop, 1,200 on a designated Pedestrian Street. Among other recommendations, the Grow Chicago report calls for revising the ordinance to include all buildings within 1,200 feet of a station, dropping the parking minimums altogether within these zones, and streamlining the approval process for TOD projects.

Today, Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed a new TOD reform ordinance that would essentially grant all of these wishes by expanding the TOD zones and abolishing the parking minimums. The new law would also create new incentives for including on-site affordable housing in TOD projects. The ordinance will be introduced at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, and the council will likely vote on the legislation in September, the two-year anniversary of the original law.

“From day one of my Administration, we have invested in our public transportation system to create jobs and revitalize commercial corridors across Chicago,” said Emanuel in a statement. “This ordinance will build on those investments, spurring economic development in our neighborhoods, which will benefit residents and small business owners alike.”

Although the new ordinance is closely aligned with MPC’s goals, and the nonprofit was given a sneak peek at the bill in order to provide an initial analysis of the new law, the group wasn’t directly involved in drafting the legislation, according to MPC spokeswoman Mandy Burrell Booth. “We’ve been having conversations with the city over the past several months, and this came out of those talks,” she said.

Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 6.19.15 PM
Map of North Side TOD districts under the proposed ordinance. View larger versions of the North and South Side maps in MPC’s report on the ordinance.

The 2013 ordinance has facilitated eight projects worth more than $132 million, creating almost 1,000 construction jobs and 100 permanent jobs, according to the mayor’s office. “Groups like MPC and developers have seen how successful the 2013 ordinance has been in spurring development near transit, so this was a natural next step to capitalize on that success,” Burrell Booth said.

The new law would more than double the reach of the 2013 ordinance. Currently, new residential buildings within 600 feet of a Metra or ‘L’ stop (1,200 feet on designated Pedestrian Streets) are required to provide at least a 1:2 ratio of parking spots to units, instead of the usual 1:1 ratio. The parking requirement for commercial uses, or the commercial portion of a mixed-use development, is waived.

Under the reform ordinance, land zoned for business (B), commercial (C), downtown (D) or industrial (M) uses within 1,320 feet of a station would be freed from the minimum parking requirements altogether, including for residential uses. On Pedestrian Streets, the zone would be expanded to 2,640 feet.

Note that the elimination of parking minimums does not mean that all TOD developments would have zero parking spaces. Rather, it leaves the decision about how many spots should be provided up to the developer and the community, instead of having the zoning ordinance dictate that number. Since off-street parking spots cost at least $20,000 each, dropping the requirement for unneeded spaces will help reduce housing costs.

The legislation would also increase the density allowance for parcels within these new TOD districts that are zoned B, C, or D, with a floor area ratio of 3 (roughly equivalent to three stories), if the developer provides on-site affordable housing. Buildings in which 2.5 percent of the housing units are affordable would receive an upzone to a FAR of 3.5. Those with five percent affordable units would qualify for a FAR of 3.75, and those with 10 percent affordable units would be eligible for a FAR of 4. This would help make it easier for working people to access jobs via transit.

MPC diagram illustrating the density bonuses for including on-site affordable housing.

To facilitate the approval process for TOD projects, the reform ordinance would allow the elimination of parking requirements and approval of increased density to take place on an “as of right” basis, through the Administrative Adjustment process. Currently, a zoning map amendment is generally required for these changes, which is a slower, more expensive, and riskier process.

MPC’s initial analysis found that the policy change would more than double the area of land parcels eligible for the density bonus, compared to the 2013 ordinance, from 13 million square feet to 31 million. Meanwhile, it would increase the amount of land benefitting from the parking minimum elimination from 86 million square feet to 957 million.

The nonprofit projects that, over the next 20 years, the reform would result in a total of 60,000 to 70,000 units located within a half mile of transit, about a 50-percent increase in the number that would be build if the 2013 ordinance went unchanged. If the ordinance passes, the number of units would include about 1,300 on-site affordable units, and developers would also pay an estimated $150 million towards the city’s affordable housing fund.

Financial benefits of the new ordinance would also include roughly $450 million in additional annual sales at businesses around the, according to MPC. The city of Chicago and sister agencies would receive additional annual tax revenues of almost $200 million.

Arguably, a fly in the ointment of the new law is that, since the density bonus only applies to parcels with floor area ratios of 3, aka “-3 zoning,” plenty of land near transit won’t be eligible for this bonus. For example, while the Near West Side has plenty of -3 zoning near transit, Albany Park, which has two Brown Line stations, has very little of this kind of zoning. City Notes blogger Daniel Hertz tweeted his displeasure at this oversight:

I asked Peter Strazzabosco, deputy commissioner of the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, why the city chose to only include -3 parcels for the density bonus. “In a nutshell, the [Minimum Lot Area], FAR and height provisions in the proposed ordinance would provide for new projects that are compatible with the medium- to high-density character of existing -3 areas, versus other business and commercial locations that could be considered as having low-density zoning,” he said.

It’s likely that the TOD reform ordinance will pass City Council, but there’s a strong possibility that it will get watered down somewhat. For example, council members will likely ask that the requirement of an alderman-approved zoning map adjustment for the density bonus stay in place — they made a similar move back in 2013. They’ll probably argue that this is to make sure they stay in the loop about new developments, but the desire to keep campaign contributions from developers flowing may be another reason to resist this change.

Overall, however, the reform ordinance promises to be a big win for Chicago. Encouraging development near transit, providing more affordable housing, making it easier for people to access jobs, increasing retail sales and tax revenue – these things are exactly what the city needs right now.

On a humorous note, the Chicago Tribune, which was given the scoop on the story by the mayor’s office, managed to spin this big news about housing and transit into a bikes-versus-cars narrative. Reporter Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz focused on the fact that developers would have to provide one bike parking spot per housing unit, plus a car-sharing spot or a Divvy station on-site, in order to qualify for the elimination of the car parking requirement. “Cars Make Way for Bikes in Transit-Oriented Housing Proposal” trumpeted the headline, illustrated by a photo of a hipster on a fixie in Wicker Park.

  • kastigar

    John: just a suggestion: use the full phrase “Transit Oriented Development” the first time in an article, then use “TOD” after that. Not all of us are familiar with the acronyms.

  • I did, in the body of the article, but I think most Streetsblog readers are familiar with the acronym, and writing out the full phrase takes up a lot of room in a headline.

  • Jeff H

    Anyone know of a better version of the map? Would be nice to be able to zoom in to see the actual boundaries.

  • Go to the MPC post for the zoomable map: http://www.metroplanning.org/news/blog-post/7184 I may embed this in our post later today.

  • You can click on the map in this post for a larger image. I’ve also added a link to the MPC report on the new ordinance, which features larger versions of the North and South Side Maps, in our caption. You can can zoom in on the PDF of the report: http://www.metroplanning.org/uploads/cms/documents/2015_tod_ordinance_impacts_mpc_analysis.pdf

  • ohsweetnothing

    …so how far away is the Mega Mall site from the California and/or Logan Square Blue Line stops?

  • nw side

    Hate that decision making is being taken out of the neighborhoods, huge monstrous buildings do not always fit in with the character of all neighborhoods.

    It’s not a one size fits all scenario, and suspiciously if you look at the study many of the very neighborhoods that seem to have lost density have little to no tags for new TOD, why?

    Urban planners don’t always know best, I know .. scandalous, but they don’t. Schools in some of these areas are overcrowded, in a perfect “plan” these are all SINK or DINK but realistically not.

    Most of these are locked in TIF/SSA zones … so these developers are going to be kicking in cash to the city.

    And once these residents have been here a year or 2, in a TIF/SSA zone neighborhood that is otherwise completely ignored by the mayor in every other way except to collect a tax on every possible thing .. they will buy a home elsewhere after realizing the Metra goes to the burbs.

    Where it’s possibly safer, cheaper, the government is solvent and you’re treated better when you come to Chicago because you area tourist and not a resident.

  • Well, for starters, eliminating the car parking minimums in TOD districts gives more decision-making power to the neighbors about how many — or few — parking spots should be included in a project.

  • nw side

    It allows developers to low ball parking which is now going to happen, because parking spaces don’t bring in the money and the neighborhoods will have to then go back and forth and bring up studies about how many cars per address, per block, account for visitors, ESPECIALLY near transit .. do you have any idea how many people drive to the train and park in the neighborhoods?

    I have lived downtown, in Logan’s Square , Roger’s Park, Printer’s Row and now the NW side they are all very different, here you have no idea how many people drive into the neighborhood and park to take public transit to either the city or the burbs. Parking around the trains is at a premium, I don’t own a car .. never have but you throw 2-4 high density buildings in this neighborhood and there will be cars, visitors … etc.

    For the few years before they move out.

    We have been fighting a high density development for years because of the developer, this may allow it to go through and that is a shame because the “neighborhood” does not want it and it is not right for this area.

  • Steven Vance

    For the most part, decision making will not be taken out of the neighborhoods as long as the aldermen remain actively involved in conversations with developers.

    There are still few places where one can get the higher density because it applies in only -3 zones, which are relatively rare. Developers then need to apply for a zoning change, which is approved by the City Council’s zoning committee which always defers that approval to the alderman.

  • Grant

    With reference to your statement above that “Note that the elimination of parking minimums does not mean that all TOD developments would have zero parking spaces. Rather, it leaves the decision about how many spots should be provided up to the developer and the community, instead of having the zoning ordinance dictate that number.” How is the “community” is going to be able to get involved in deciding the number of spots in new development, absent an upzoning request? It seems that this ordinance takes the decision out of the hands of the community.

  • TOM

    Pretend you’re not preaching to the choir and use more communicative terms, such as, Transit Adjacent Development. What’s so oriented about TOD?
    There are a lot of people yet to be persuaded out here and if you talk over their heads their eyes glaze over fast.

  • I live on the northwest side, in Jefferson Park, specifically and you don’t speak for the neighborhood. Your opinions are your own. I’d like to see an increase in density and decrease in parking spaces, particularly near the train stations in a transit-oriented development. For the following reasons:
    1. maximize the existing transit infrastructure that our tax dollars support by having more people live adjacent to transit.
    2. generating more property tax revenue (which, as you know, the city desperately needs).
    3. Building a more environmentally sustainable place where cars are one option for travel (but not necessarily the preferred option).
    4. Increased density allows for more “boots on the ground” which helps support our small storefront businesses and restaurants.
    5. The cost of parking (which is most certainly not free) would be lessened, thus allowing commercial and residential rents to be lower than otherwise.

  • There is a difference between transit-oriented and transit-adjacent development. Transit-oriented development are buildings that exist to support transit systems. Features like reduced or zero parking, walkups, mixed use with retail on bottom and residential on top, dense enough to support pedestrian infrastructure like sidewalks, benches, small storefronts. Transit-adjacent development is simply buildings that happen to be sited next to transit but are not supportive of transit. These are buildings that might be big box stores with large parking lots in which, presumably, the property is designed so that most customers will access the building via car despite its adjacency to transit.

  • Mark O’Donnell

    Hey Ryan! Nice post. I agree with all of your points!

  • While this is great news, the problem still lies in the fact the most of the City is under-zoned. Most projects that would take advantage of the new ordinance would still have to apply for a zoning change (for a density increase) giving the alderman and anti-density people the ability to shut proposals down. I think a reasonable next step would be rezone the properties up in the TOD areas. You know, actual city planning.

  • Yes – MPC is recommending that the TOD ordinance apply to ALL zones, including R, and not just B-3, C-3, and D-3. I think this would be easier to accomplish than upzoning districts en masse.

    +1 on “actual city planning”. The longtime behavior of making changes piecemeal are not city planning.

  • I don’t think a 5-story building with 36 units across from an older building that has 6 stories next to the Paulina Brown Line station and is a block away from yet more 6-7 story buildings is a huge monster created as a result of the TOD ordinance. I’m referring to the building in the rendering at the top of the post.

    Don’t conflate TIF with SSA. “Special Service Areas” are created by approval of the property owners that are in the proposed SSA boundaries and collect money within that boundary to spend money within that boundary, spent on a limited number of things that improve the attractiveness of the business district by a manager overseen by a board of those same property owners.

  • Note that the city ordinance (zoning code) refers to the TOD ordinance as “transit served location”.

    However, the ordinance amendment as Emanuel has proposed includes a strong TOD (stress on the “oriented” part) enhancement: all buildings must comply with Pedestrian Street zoning code regulations. That is, they must also be designed to be pedestrian-friendly, with transparent façade on the ground floor, no driveways on the main street, among other requirements.

  • birdonawire

    While the city may be under zoned it is also under parked. Your idea is based on the unsupported premise that density and population can be increased, while the total number of drivers and parking spaces are reduced at the same time. This is a highly flawed proposition not backed up with any real data that has the potential for creating havoc across the city. Traffic generated by more drivers cruising for fewer residential parking spaces, (on street & off street) will cause gridlock in TODs, expanded TODs and neighborhoods adjacent to expanded TODs, that will crush long term public support for increased density.

    Using parking reductions, this broadly, as a development incentive is incredibly short sighted. It’s nothing but an irresponsible property tax grab by a mayor desperate for new revenue streams that will be remembered as fondly as Daleys reviled parking meter deal.

  • birdonawire

    MPC is seriously deluded if they think they can extend TODs and zero parking to every bus stop in the city. Once the negative impacts of expanded TODs are widely felt it’s game over. That’s why they are rushing this ordinance through before there is any substantive post occupancy evaluation of the initial TOD.

  • birdonawire

    One failure of this ordinance is that it is lacking in objective methodology and measurable data points that can be used for assessing the impact of new projects on on-street parking. Objective administration of the provisions of the ordinance is critical to promote an approval process that is fair to existing residents while preventing manipulation by developers and Alderman. While it stipulates that negative impacts on on street parking must be “considered” in “the vicinity” of the proposed project it provides no coherent directives as to how or what a zoning administrator is supposed “consider” nor does it define what the area of “the vicinity” is.

    In this ordinance revision it is clear that “the city” and zoning administrators represent developers interests, not residents.

  • birdonawire

    There is nothing in the ordinance that does that. Decision making power is being taken away from neighbors. Quite the opposite. A lot of these projects reduce required notice to abutting property owners and they have a 10-20 day window for the zoning administrator to make a finding.

  • birdonawire

    A measured increase in density combined with a careful reduction parking backed up with measurable local data is a great ideas. But that is not how this ordinance will work. Zero parking in new buildings is going to cause gridlock especially as the shared parking lots that provide parking to shoppers, employees and residents who already live in the thousands of historic, pre 1957 buildings with zero parking that make up the majority of the existing housing stock and urban fabric in the city who will be doubly impacted by both increased traffic and loss of their residential parking.

  • birdonawire

    Zero on site parking is not a new idea, it’s just a bad idea that was corrected in 1957. The fact that there are existing buildings of similar scale with zero parking is a reason for requiring off street parking in new buildings not eliminating it.

  • I would recommend that too ;). Just didn’t see it in the actual press release. Is that language in the ordinance?

    More to my point though, most of the City is currently zoned too low for larger projects. Has Zoning/Alderman/whoever proactively up-zoned properties over the last thirty years? Probably not good policy if we leave it to developers to decide where higher density projects are located. But again, that would be planning.

  • Trust me, no city in the entire country (with the exception of maybe NYC) is underparked. The point of increased density is to reduce the need for automobile trips and usage. Increased density also creates demand for more public transit, which we desperately need for all sorts of reasons.

    All of this is a heavily studied matter and quite backed up by data that has been written about by urban planners for the past 20 years. I can create a reading list for you, if you like.

  • I think the idea is to gain population within these TOD areas in such a way that this population maximizes the use of transit rather than cars.

    The problem here is one of geometry – you have finite road capacity and finite land for off-street parking. If you grant more land towards off-street parking, which is exactly what the 1957 zoning ordinance did, without substantially increasing road capacity, now we have the traffic conditions we all know today.

    But, it’s really difficult to increase road capacity without property takings, something so incredibly expensive, not to mention ruinous, that it’s not even contemplated.

    So, what do we do? We open up the street for other uses, by encouraging through design and policy other modes of traveling around our city. This includes bus and rail transit, biking and walking.

    As for cars, they’re not going anywhere. They’re just not being prioritized in these TOD areas to the extent that they are elsewhere (AKA 99% of the city). I call this freedom of choice.

  • I’d argue probably not proactively upzoning. There has been spot zoning which has included upzoning and those are the types of projects that usually get an alderman in trouble as a result of a quid pro quo. Because most alderman have to deal with neighborhood associations, made up of mostly single family homeowners, that want to protect the status quo and are more inclined to support down zoning wherever possible.

  • Rushing through an ordinance that won’t get voted on for a couple of months? With the parking meter contract, I think it was a couple of days.

  • Correct. Parking minimums, especially near transit, represent 1950s-style urban planning.

  • No one is asking for the TOD ordinance to extend to bus stops. The ordinance now and would require proximity to a “CTA or METRA rail station”.

  • 4Marian Dart

    My business partners were looking for a form earlier today and saw an online platform that hosts an online forms database . If people are wanting it too , here’s http://goo.gl/EXTlUZ


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