The Jefferson Park Free Press

April 30, 2006

Volume III            News and Commentary               IssueIV

by Robert Bank


Ald. Levar’s 85% Solution: Great Percentage if You’re a Developer

How did Ald. Levar come up with this percentage? It certainly wasn’t from any City Ordinance. As residents across the Ward try to rein-in out of control development, Alderman Levar continues to throw up hurdles.

The way it works in the 45th Ward, is that a group of homeowners submit a request to down-zone their block, usually prompted by news of a developer buying a single-family home on an oversized lot, with the intention of dividing the lot into two and constructing two homes where only the one used to sit. Alderman Levar then usually meets with representatives of that block, confirms the request, and sends out ballots to each homeowner on that block. An 85% response in favor of the down-zoning request is “required” by Alderman Levar before he will agree to down-zone the block. This means that a block with 24 homes on it would need at least 20 homeowners to return a ballot in favor of the down-zoning request. Conversely, a mere 4 homeowners could vote against the down-zoning or simply not return their ballot, thus killing the down-zoning request.


In this case 4 homeowners would be dictating zoning policy to the other 20 homeowners! So in reality it’s a 16% Solution!


Imagine one ballot getting lost, two homeowners out of town and one homeowner in the hospital; the down-zoning request would be dead.

Considering voter turnout during our last elections was well under 40%, what is the likely hood that 85% of the homeowners would cast a ballot?

The odds are certainly in favor of the developer, whom if he already owns one of the properties, gets a vote too.


While an amendment to the United States Constitution only requires a 2/3rds majority, (66.7%), a request to down-zone property in the 45th Ward requires 85%!

This is just another way for Alderman Levar to set the bar so high, that developers can continue to cash-in, sellers to cash-out, and campaign contributions to keep rolling in.


Meanwhile, the rest of the community is left to suffer not only the unpleasant aesthetics of homes out of character with the rest of the block, but also increased traffic and parking congestion, less green-space to soak up heavy rains and overcrowding in our public schools.


Isn’t it interesting there is no 85% requirement, no percentage requirement at all, when a developer asks for up-zoning?


It is often easily granted with little if any input at all from neighboring residents.


Alderman Levar is doing a good job representing the interests of those LEAVING the Ward, when will he start representing those of us LIVING in the Ward?




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Against All Odds

Fear of a single family home being turned into a 2-flat, and of two homes on double lots being eyed by developers prompted several residents on the 4000 block of North Lawler Avenue to circulate a petition to down-zone that block from RS3 to RS2. The RS3 designation could have allowed for a single-family home to be converted into a 2-flat and homes on double lots (50x125ft.) being demolished and replaced by 2 homes, which would be completely out of character of that block as it is now.

An Amazing 100% of the homeowners signed the petition.

Alderman Levar and his staff met with the residents of the 4000 North Lawler block and their attempts to dissuade the residents with warnings of reduced property values were refuted by Old Irving Park Association (OIPA) president, Howard Silver, whose organization convinced 38th Ward Alderman, Tom Allen, many years ago to down-zone entire precincts that were in OIPA’s boundaries and his ward at the time, from RS3 to RS2. This reduced the threat of tear-downs and preserved the pleasant “turn of the last century” layout of these streets which continues to boast of homes on wide spacious lots surrounded by trees, bushes, flowers and plants. Wide swaths of greenery still divide one home from another, allowing for the privacy that two homes on a divided lot could not have.

In Old Irving the pleasant layout afforded by the lesser density zoning of RS2 has enhanced property values rather than decrease them.

The Old Irving neighborhood continues to be desirable because there are fewer and fewer neighborhoods like it; let’s do the same for Mayfair Park, Portage Park and Jefferson Park.

{Editor’s note: Alderman Levar issued ballots to the 24 homeowners of which 23 ballots were returned, exceeding the high hurdle of 85% and at the time this article was written, it was expected that the down-zoning request would be approved by the City Council, or may have been approved already at the Council’s meeting mid-last week.}






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The Cheat Sheet


It’s All About The Dash (-)                                   (edited from our February’05 issue)

As the number following the dash goes up so does the density. For example a “- 1” requires a minimum of 2,500 square ft. of lot area for every unit, a “-1.5” allows 1,350 square feet of lot area per unit,  “- 2” allows only 1000 sq. ft. of lot area per unit and a  “-3” allows for even greater density requiring only 400 square feet per unit. So for example if you had 29,800 sq. ft. of land and you were zoned B2-3 you could build 74 condos! If the property was zoned B2-2 you would be allowed 29 condos, B2-1.5 would allow for 22 condos and if zoned B2-1, you could only build 11 condos.

That number after the dash makes a big difference. Now imagine that you bought a property zoned B3-1 but you were able to get it rezoned to B2-3, that “dash three” could make your property worth a lot, lot more. Why should the Alderman and the City give away that zoning? What is the community getting in return for this extreme density? What about the impact on the schools, traffic congestion, flooding and quality of life in general? Why would Alderman Levar want to diminish the quality of life just to increase a developer’s profits? If a developer bought the property as zoned let him build as zoned. Once the zoning change is allowed, a precedent will have been set and the City will have a very difficult time refusing, if it can refuse at all, future requests for up-zoning on the remaining parcels of that block.


Example:         Zoning classification for B2-__                          Example: 29,800 sq. ft lot


Dash  1     :    2,500 sq. ft. minimum lot area   per unit               allows approx. 11 condos

Dash  1.5  :    1,350 sq. ft. minimum lot area   per unit               allows approx. 22 condos

Dash  2     :    1,000 sq. ft. minimum lot area   per unit               allows approx. 29 condos

Dash  3     :       400 sq. ft. minimum lot area   per unit               allows approx. 74 condos 




The same applies for residential zoning. The density issue especially comes into play with older homes on double lots (50 x 125), which have 6,250 square feet or more. This type property has become attractive to developers because they can be torn down and replaced with two homes. The increased density affects not just the character of the neighborhood but also parking, school overcrowding and flooding (as green space that acted as a watershed is reduced).

Leaving a home on a double lot under R3 zoning or greater is like leaving a freshly baked pie on the window sill with the aroma wafting under the noses of developers. Down-zoning to “current use” such as R2 would stop the destruction of homes existing on double-lots. Note the chart below.


RS 1     :         6,250 sq. ft. minimum lot area required per unit      allows  1   unit  on a double lot

RS 2     :         5,000 sq. ft. minimum lot area required per unit      allows  1   unit  on a double lot

RS 3     :         2,500 sq. ft. minimum lot area required per unit    *allows 2.5 units on a double lot

RT 3.5  :         1,250 sq. ft. minimum lot area required per unit    *allows  5   units on a double lot

RT 4     :         1,000 sq. ft. minimum lot area required per unit    *allows  6   units on a double lot

           * a variance, or a slightly larger lot may allow for an extra unit.






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