Report of the HPKCC Zoning Reform Forum, January 29, 2003

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Report on the January 29, 2003 Zoning Reform Forum
Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference
By Gary M. Ossewaarde

Moderator Homer Ashby, President of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference, opened the forum at 7 pm at the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club. The South East Chicago Commission cosponsored the forum.

Tim Barton of the Chicago Department of Planning discussed the background of the new proposed ordinance and the implications for business and residential areas. The ordinance consists of 300 pages of text developed over two and a half years. The text is broken into 17 chapters bundled in 5 parts. Part one, Residential and Open Space, was introduced into City Council in November. The second, introduced in the third week of January, deals with Business, Industrial and Special Overlay zones. Even if the whole ordinance is introduced and passed by June, mapping will not begin until later this year and may take years. A transition period with special rules may be needed. Barton encouraged communities to use the designations as strategies to maintain or change neighborhood sections and streets.

The residential rules will have little immediate impact in Hyde Park, which doesn’t have vacant residential land and has experienced little of the excesses of the 1990’s that provoked north-siders—excesses such out of scale, lot-filling, and out-of-character structures. The main changes will be introduction of half-step designations between R3 and R7, with rules that allow more flexibility but spell out setback, open space, and height restrictions, and consolidation of the high-rise steps. Barton thought parts of Kenwood would be protected the most. As examples, he said that yard structures would now be restricted to 30% coverage rather than 30 feet and part of the open area must be green space, not paved (as for parking). Parking must be off the alley. In front, green space rather than sunken patios or garages is required, and doors and windows must be provided on the street side.

Open space will now have their own designations—regional and community parks, neighborhood playlots (under 10 acres as per the present Park District definition), and non-park open spaces such as cemeteries or the Lake Calumet natural reserve. Public process would be required for changed uses in these districts.

Provisions for business and commercial areas and properties will have the greatest impact in Hyde Park. Twelve districts will be reduced to 6 (B1-B3 and C1-C2) overlain with density designations (1, 2, 3, or 4)—i.e. B2-3. B1 would apply to low-intensity ground-level-retail strips such as 53rd and parts of 55th streets. B2 would include Taylor and Division streets that mix in ground-level residential. B3 is for shopping centers. C1 includes Cottage Grove north of 47th, and C2 is illustrated by wide Stony Island with its high volume and auto-related and auto intensive uses.

A special case is commercial areas given special overlay designations and strategies. 53rd Street between Lake Park and Kenwood is illustrative of about 11 miles on 23 commercial streets in Chicago whose “pedestrian-oriented character” planners seek preserve through zoning. Other examples are Taylor, Argyle, Roscoe Village, and Wentworth in Chinatown. For such streets the object is to provide a preservation umbrella and consistency tools and standards and only secondarily to govern development.(53rd west of Kenwood has a different character.) Standards in keeping with the character of such streets are:
· Limit or prohibit cuts (driveways) and uses such as drive-throughs.
· Build flush with the sidewalk.
· Eliminate off-street parking and requirement for it.
· Have display windows that take up at least 40 percent of the ground floor façade.
· Place the main entrance on the sidewalk.

Finally, with regard to mapping there is currently no comprehensive city plan. He believes 80 to 90 percent of land will automatically convert to the new designations and districts with no changes necessary so long as the use remains the same. He added that community involvement will remain the key as to whether zoning works in the interest of residents and communities.

Peter Skosey, Vice President, Metropolitan Planning Council presented. He outlined the work of MPO in evaluating the current and proposed zoning, including an intensive study of four communities, making recommendations (in large degree incorporated in the proposed ordinance) to the Commission, and developing a zoning change strategy communities can use in applying the districts locally. Their Big Ideas book is on line in pdf at the Commissions website in Skosey noted that many places, including Hyde Park, have already done extensive mapping.

Skosey said that zoning mainly controls site improvements—structure size, coverage, height, loading, setbacks, landscaping, screening, and signage. Many of these will have more extensive and precise standards than at present. Zoning does not control code compliance, market conditions, public services, or architectural design—although it can regulate urban design (how structures affect the public way).

In approaching a community from a zoning perspective, he advised looking at buildings and blocks, asking: What is their character? Are they assets or challenges? Also, looking for the best places for different uses and densities, including thinking of such strategies as putting highest density near transit to discourage clogging the neighborhood with traffic. He suggested using small-medium-and large in lieu of zoning letters and numbers. Take pictures and pin them on the map. He said September is a good target.

The moderator opened the floor to questions, fielded by a panel of Barton, Skosey, Alderman Leslie Hairston (5th) and Alderman Toni Preckwinkle (4th). ( ) answers.

Question 1. How will the transition and conversion work, especially for many parcels where old and new descriptions will not match? (Barton and Skosey said they are assessing what was done in other cities and looking at grandfathering.)

Question 2. What is the scenario for existing property? (If it’s use does not change, nothing, even if the use is non-conforming. The grace period for lapses of non-conforming will likely be extended to 18 months. If a structure is torn down and not rebuilt soon, then the land will revert to the new designation.)

Question 3. Will business operation out of other structures be affected? (There will be no change; this is a license regulation issue.)

Question 4. What is the effect on parks? (The CPD threshold of 10 acres will apply. There will be more public process when the District wants to build or allow outside uses in a park. Natural areas will be specifically protected.)

Question 5. Aren’t proposed modified car-per-unit regulations shortsighted? Shouldn’t private garages be encouraged? (The rules have to vary with type of residential structure and density. One space per unit in R1-R3 will be the norm. Making the rule 2 spaces for lowest density is under consideration, but may not be possible in many places.)

Question 6. Shouldn’t there be more requirement for off street parking in business areas, such as with parking structures—53rd is not just pedestrian; it’s jammed with traffic? (Flexibility is better.)

Questions 7-8. How will planned developments, including the University, be treated? (Mostly as now, but with some more public process/review of changes. PD’s are really long-term contracts that must nevertheless, like all overlays, conform to the underlying zoning. Alderman Hairston said she would use zoning to redirect the character of major streets such as 71st, Stony Island, south of Hyde Park.

Question 9. Is not the goal of “residentializing” commercial streets shortsighted and will it not shortchange the redeveloping south side? (Application will be cautious, not blanket.)

Moderator Ashby thanked the panel and audience and said the audience will be contacted concerning both follow up and forming a committee to look at application to the neighborhood.