The Jefferson Park Free Press

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February 27, 2006

Volume III            News and Commentary               Issue II

by Robert Bank


Mayfair, a Pleasant Suburb of Chicago

That’s how the 1875 book “Chicago and its Suburbs” described what is now the pleasant Chicago neighborhood of Mayfair, roughly bounded by Montrose, Lawrence, Elston & Cicero. Mayfair still retains much of that pleasant suburban charm with large homes on double-lots. Many of the streets that these homes sit on have no alley, thus requiring a side driveway, which may be the biggest reason Mayfair has managed to keep that open suburban feel. But due to strong demand for housing, any kind of housing, the handsome homes are worth less than the land that they sit on. Scheming developers are carving up these lots for town-homes, condos and 18 foot wide “bowling-alley” style homes specifically designed to double up on these large lots and still leave room for a 14 foot wide shared driveway right down the middle. The City’s Zoning Committee has a long tradition of honoring the will of the alderman regarding zoning in his ward. Some Aldermen are diligent in protecting the character of the neighborhoods in their ward, such as Ald. Gene Schulter of the 47th Ward, who has down-zoned much of his ward’s residential streets so that a house or 2-flat torn down can usually only be replaced by a single family home; and guess what? In that Ravenswood neighborhood where these homes and 2-flats are going for over $600,000, developers are doing just that and still managing to make a profit, as the new homes are selling for $1.2 and $1.4 million dollars! Ald. Schulter has even down-zoned stretches of N. Damen Avenue, a major thoroughfare because many blocks on Damen have managed to stay residential through the decades and recently have caught the eye of developers eager to cash-in. Ald. Schulter has put the breaks on those developers dreams with protective down-zoning that basically limits a single family tear-down to only be replaced with another single family home.

Closer to home, 38th Ward Alderman Tom Allen has also stepped up to the plate by announcing that he intends to request down-zoning for the historic Gray family farm-house in the Old Irving neighborhood, because recent ownership has changed hands and the fear is that the large lot will be too tempting for its new owners not to subdivide or even tear down the 1870’s era Italianate home altogether. Alderman Allen has also down-zoned precinct by precinct in Old Irving, down-zoning entire blocks so as to remove the temptation to subdivide those large lots, thus preserving the character of that neighborhood.

What does our 45th Ward Alderman Patrick Levar do? Nothing, Ald. Levar sits on his hands. Is it out of laziness or ignorance or is it more sinister than that? 

Since January 1, 2003, Levar’s campaign committee, “Citizens to Re-elect Patrick J. Levar” has taken in over $288,000 from individual contributions and many of those contributions from came from developers.

This begs the question, “Is our Ward for sale?”










(click on “committees” and type in candidate’s last name)













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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.