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Downzoning FAQ's

What is zoning?
Zoning is a legal tool that helps insure proper use for all land in the City of Chicago.  It prevents neighborhoods from being overdeveloped by limiting the number of homes or apartments that can be built.

How is my block zoned now?
Your block is currently zoned RS-3. To view the zoning map, visit the City of Chicago’s mapping website: http://maps.cityofchicago.org/website/zoning 
Old Irving Park and much of North Mayfair are zoned RS-2.  Many other residential areas on the Northwest side are also RS-2.

What does RS-3 mean?
RS-3 is one of the Residential Single-Unit (Detached House) Districts defined in the City of Chicago Zoning Ordinance. Nonconforming (multi-family) homes on our block are grandfathered in. RS-3 does allow for construction of a new two-flat, if you meet the minimum lot size requirement of 2500 square feet of lot per dwelling unit.

What is downzoning?
Downzoning would change the current zoning from RS-3 to RS-2.

What does RS-2 mean?
RS-2 is also a Residential Single-Unit (Detached House) District. Nonconforming homes on your block would still be grandfathered in.

What’s the difference between RS-3 and RS-2? The most significant differences between RS-3 and RS-2 pertain to minimum lot width, 2-flat allowed, minimum lot area, maximum floor area ratio (FAR), and side yard requirements.

What if I own a two-flat, three-flat, or an apartment building and my lot is downzoned to RS-2?
Homes that are Nonconforming would still be grandfathered in.  You do not have to change it, tear it down or convert it. You can repair and do regular maintenance on your property. You can continue to use it as you have been using it. You are permitted to sell it for the same use. You may, however, not be able to expand any use that is not permitted under current zoning. (See the Zoning Ordinance Chapter 17-15 Nonconformities.)

What if my two-flat, three-flat, or apartment building burns down, is damaged or is completely destroyed after downzoning? Can I rebuild it?
You can rebuild your two-flat, three-flat, or apartment building as long as you begin repairs or reconstruction within 18 months, and you are able to prove the number of lawful units prior to the casualty.  The above is stated in the Nonconformities section of the Zoning Code under Section 17-15-0404 Damage or Destruction: 17-15-0404-B When a structure with nonconforming elements is partially damaged or totally destroyed by fire or other causes beyond the control of the property owner, the structure may be rebuilt, provided that such rebuilding does not result in a building that is more out of compliance than the building being replaced and provided that a building permit to replace the structure is obtained within 18 months of the date of damage or destruction.

Can I (or a future buyer) add on to my home after downzoning?
Under RS-2, you can add on to your home until the gross square footage of your house reaches 65% of your lot area.  The gross square footage is the total of the square footage of each floor measured from the outside walls. The gross square footage does not include most unfinished attics* or free-standing garages, front porches, and rear un-enclosed porches or decks.  It also does not include basements where more than half the floor to floor height is below ground level. (Note: This means that if your basement is halfway below grade, it does not count toward the square footage, whether it is finished or not.)  Also under RS-2, you can ask for a zoning variance to increase the allowed floor area by 10% (Attic space that is 6’9” or higher counts toward square footage. Attic and RS-2 10% variance information confirmed via phone call with Carlos Ramirez, Zoning Dept. Plan Examiner, 7-18-06. Each zoning category has floor-area-ratio (FAR) standards that tell you how much square footage a house can have based on your lot size. (See Section 17-2-0304 Floor Area Ratio in the Zoning Ordinance for more information.) For RS-2, the FAR is 0.65.  For example, a 25x148.5 lot has 3712.5 square feet.  x .65 = 2413, so an RS-2 building (without any zoning variance) can have 2413 square feet.  Most of the lots on our block are larger than this example.

Can I (or a future buyer) add on to my two-flat or three-flat after downzoning?
The RS-2 standards above also apply to Nonconforming properties.
Also see the Zoning Ordinance, Section 17-15-0403 Alterations and Enlargements: 17-15-0403 Alterations and Enlargements Unless otherwise expressly stated in this Zoning Ordinance, nonconforming developments may be altered or enlarged as long as the alteration or enlargement does not increase the extent of nonconformity. A building addition to an existing nonconforming development that projects further into a required setback or further above the permitted maximum height is an example of increasing the extent of nonconformity. Upper story building additions that vertically extend existing building walls that are nonconforming with regard to front or side setback requirements will also be considered to increase the extent of nonconformity. Upper story building additions that vertically extend an existing building wall that is nonconforming with regard to rear yard open space or rear setback requirements will not be considered to increase the degree of nonconformity, provided that the original building was constructed before the effective dates specified in Section 17-1-0200 and provided such upperstory addition is set back at least 30 feet from the rear property line. Areas of Old Irving that have been downzoned to RS-2 contain many nonconforming multi-family structures, several of which have been rehabbed to become single family homes.

Why would I want my neighborhood to be downzoned?
Downzoning from RS-2 to RS-3 can protect the area from over-development, while still allowing for responsible development.  Downzoning helps make the area less appealing to developers.
Downzoning to RS-2 dictates a home size that is more in line with the volumes of existing homes. (As you can see on surrounding blocks, new RS-3 homes are much bigger than typical existing homes.)  This can limit congestion that results from over-building, and preserve the character of our community, the green space, and the appeal of the area in general.

Why would I not want my neighborhood to be downzoned?
Downzoning has implications for all homeowners. Additions to existing homes cannot be as large. Side yard requirements under RS-2 are more restrictive, which could limit the size and location of additions.  Downzoning helps makes the area less appealing to developers, so an owner of an oversized lot may not be able to get top dollar from a developer after downzoning.

Will I have problems selling my home after downzoning?
In a neighborhood zoned RS-2, current residents and prospective buyers can feel confident that the area will not be over-developed and it is less likely that a single family home will be torn down and replaced with two homes on the same lot.  We feel that this helps to maintain the appeal of the neighborhood—the same appeal that drew many of us here in the first place.

What will happen to the value of my home after downzoning?
No one can predict the future value of your home with or without downzoning. Proponents of downzoning believe that it will enhance the value of your home, two-flat, three-flat, or apartment building by preventing your neighborhood from becoming too dense and congested. However, there are so many variables that go into determining the market value of an area that no one can isolate the effects of downzoning with any certainty.

Has there been any recent official action to downzone our neighborhood?
Downzoning efforts in Mayfair are just beginning.  Recently, the residents of 4000 North Lawler successfully petitioned for the downzoning of their block. Alderman Levar introduced an ordinance to downzone the 5400 and 5300 blocks of West Wilson at the June 28, 2006 City Council meeting. He did so in response to a Wilson Neighbors block club petition organized in response to concerns over recent development in the area.

How can I let my Alderman know my opinion on the subject of downzoning?
If an adequate number of petition signatures is received, Alderman Levar intends to call a public meeting for residents in Mayfair who are interested in downzoning. You can also call Alderman Levar (773-545-2545) or write (5205 North Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, IL 60630) to make your opinion known.

What are the next steps in our downzoning effort?
After the community meeting, Alderman Levar will mail out a Down Zoning Survey (like a ballot) to affected homeowners and we will need to return them by the date that will be specified in the mailing.  If the quorum is reached, it will take several months for the Alderman to introduce the ordinance and receive official City Council approval in order for it to take effect.

Does downzoning require homeowner approval in order for it to happen?
There is no legal requirement that a community vote to either upzone or downzone anything, and no requirement for a specific percentage or majority approval.  (Developers are not required to get a majority or supermajority for projects they want to build.)  It is up to the individual Alderman. For example, in Old Irving, the Alderman required a clear majority and downzoned by precinct. Alderman Levar requires a supermajority and downzoning block-by-block.

Key comparison of RS-2 and RS-3:

 

RS-2

RS-3

Single Family Home

Yes

Yes

Two Flat

No

Yes

Multi-Unit Housing 3+

No

No

Minimum Lot Area (sq. ft)

5,000 / 3,750*

2,500

Lot Frontage

25 feet or greater**

No restriction

Lot Area per Unit (Density)

5,000

2,500 / 1,500***

Floor Area Ratio (FAR)

0.65

0.9

Front Setback

20ft or 16% of lot depth

20ft or 16% of lot depth

Rear Setback

28% of lot depth or 50ft, whichever is less

28% of lot depth or 50ft, whichever is less

Rear Yard Open Space

400 sq ft/6.5% of lot area

225 sq ft/6.5% of lot area

Side Setbacks

Combined 30% of lot width with neither less than 4 feet or 10% of lot width

Combined 20% of lot width with neither less than 2 feet or 8% of lot width

 

*17-2-0301-B   Exemptions

  1. Contextual Standard for RS1 and RS2 Districts
    In the RS1 and RS2 districts, when more than 50% of similarly zoned lots on a block face have a minimum lot area per unit less than prescribed in Sec. 17-2-0301-A, the minimum lot area per dwelling unit standard will be established based on the predominant lot area of all zoning lots fronting on the block face. In no case, however, may the minimum lot area established pursuant to this contextual standard be less than 3,750 square feet .  (Amend. Coun. J. 3-9-05, p. 44401.)   
  2. Lots of Record
    A detached house may be established on any lot of record regardless of the size of the lot, provided that all other requirements of this Zoning Ordinance are met. This exemption also applies if a lot of record is increased in area and still does not comply with applicable minimum lot area standards

**17-2-0302 Lot Frontage

17-2-0302-A      Minimum Lot Frontage Standards
Except as expressly allowed in Sec. 17-2-0302-B , all lots in RS1 and RS2 districts must have a minimum lot frontage of 25 feet or the predominant lot frontage of similarly zoned lots on the same block face, whichever is greater. (See Sec. 17-17-0303 for rules governing the measurement of lot frontage.)  (Amend. Coun. J. 3-9-05, p. 44401.) 

17-2-0302-B      Exemption
A detached house may be established on any lot of record regardless of its lot frontage, provided that all other requirements of this Zoning Ordinance are met. This exemption also applies if a lot of record is increased in area and still does not comply with applicable minimum lot frontage standards.

***17-2-0303-B      Exemption
In the RS3 district the minimum lot area per dwelling unit may be reduced to 1,500 square feet when 60% or more of the zoning lots fronting on the same side of the street between the two nearest intersecting streets have been lawfully improved with buildings containing more than one dwelling unit. (Amend. Coun. J. 11-3-04, p. 35385, 3-9-05, p. 44402.)
If you have other questions or want to verify this data, you can look up the complete Zoning Ordinance online http://w14.cityofchicago.org:8080/zoning/default.jsp or call the City of Chicago Zoning Department (312-744-3508).

RESOURCES
Zoning Department General: 312-744-3508 Plan Examiner: 312-744-2382
Zoning Ordinance online http://www.cityofchicago.org/Zoning
Zoning Maps http://maps.cityofchicago.org/website/zoning
Other Neighborhood Associations
Go meet more people who share your concerns.  Old Irving Park, North Mayfair, Jefferson Park, Portage Park and other nearby neighborhood associations have regular meetings. Times are usually listed in Nadig’s NW Side Press.
Old Irving Park Association
Old Irving has worked with Aldermen Tom Allen and Margaret Laurino to downzone lots of residential streets. They have provided great info and support to help us in our efforts. Thanks!
Wilson Neighbors
Another big thanks to Wilson Neighbors for sharing their information.  You can read more about the efforts to downzone 5300/5400 West Wilson at http://www.ourblock.blogspot.com
Jefferson Park Neighborhood Assn
Meetings are the last Wednesday of the month, 7pm, at the church at 5320 W. Giddings.
Portage Park Neighborhood Association
http://www.portagepark.org
Alderman Levar Let Alderman Levar know your concerns, he is very interested working with the community. His 45th ward office contact info is:  5205 N. Milwaukee Ave, Chicago 60630 773-545-2545
Nadig Newspapers
Brian Nadig 772-286-6100 news@nadignewspapers.com
Pioneer Press Amy Lee, reporter 874-696-3133 ale@pioneerlocal.com
Preservation Chicago http://preservationchicago.orgGreat community success stories. In the Community Outlooks section, the Related Links page has many helpful links to zoning info, the Assessor’s office, Alderman & Ward info, and much more.
Historic Chicago Bungalow Initiative Low-cost plans for bungalow expansion, grants, and other resources.http://chicagobungalow.org/312.642.9900
Historic Chicago Bungalow Morgue See photos of Chicago bungalows lost to development. http://chicagobungalowmorgue.blogspot.com

 

 

Schedule of Events
Winter 2007

January 11
Membership Meeting
7:30 - 9:30 pm
Irish American Heritage Center 4626 N. Knox

January 25
Zoning & Development Committee Meeting 7:30 - 9:30 pm
Irish American Heritage Center 4626 N. Knox

February 8 (tentative)
Membership Meeting
7:30 - 9:30 pm
Irish American Heritage Center 4626 N. Knox

February 22
Zoning & Development Committee Meeting 7:30 - 9:30 pm
Irish American Heritage Center 4626 N. Knox

March 8
Membership Meeting
7:30 - 9:30 pm
Irish American Heritage Center 4626 N. Knox

March 22
Zoning & Development Committee Meeting 7:30 - 9:30 pm
Irish American Heritage Center 4626 N. Knox

 


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