The Jefferson Park Free Press

June 7, 2006

Volume III            News and Commentary            Issue VIII

by Robert Bank


A Sunday Drive Thru the 45th Ward and Why We Need Down-Zoning

This past Sunday a friend and I were driving through the Jefferson Park neighborhood in the 45th Ward, when my friend commented on a tear-down we drove past, “look at that, two foundations”, he said. I stopped the car and we got out. Sure enough two new foundations with not much separating them, a single building used to stand here, now there will be two homes close enough for the neighbors to pass each other the salt and pepper thru the windows in the morning. Two doors further down the block, a lot was fenced off where another house had been demolished. A neighbor was sitting on her porch, so I asked her if she knew what the plans were for the lot next door to her home. She answered, “It was a brick bungalow, they said two-houses are going up on this lot, its only 48 feet across but two houses are going to be built here, the builder says he’s going to sell them for over $700,000. The house is going to be only two feet from my property line. I’m going to lose all of my sun-light on this side of the house.” My friend mentioned another house that came down on Linder Avenue, and was also replaced with two homes. Then I told him about a home on Windsor Avenue that was replaced with three homes! We said good-bye to the woman and headed back to my car. We asked ourselves just how many times this was happening in our ward, so we decided to take a drive and see. One block after another we found new homes in pairs snuggled together, sometimes condos and town-homes too. Over and over we spoke to neighbors who confirmed our suspicion, that each time, the large lots were formerly occupied by a single home. It was more pervasive than either of us had thought, and we only covered a small portion of the ward, roughly from Foster to Montrose between Cicero and Austin. In just two hours we counted 50 single-family homes that have been torn down and replaced with everything from two homes to 14 unit condominiums. That comes to 50 dwelling units being replaced by 150 new dwelling units, and that’s not even counting all units being built on what was formerly commercial or industrial property such as the 89 units Concorde Homes is developing on Lawrence Avenue west of Cicero.


Jefferson Park has traditionally offered homes on slightly wider lots than the City’s “standard” 25ft. x 125ft lot. In many areas of Jefferson Park, the lots are at least 30 feet wide. Some lots are 50 feet, or nearly 50 feet wide, earning the moniker “double-lot”. The wider lots give a pleasant almost suburban feeling to our Far-Northwest-side neighborhood.


According to Chicago’s Zoning Ordinance SEC 17-2-0101,

The “R” residential districts are intended to create, maintain and promote a variety of housing opportunities for individual households AND TO MAINTAIN THE DESIRED PHYSICAL CHARACTER OF THE CITY’S EXISTING NEIGHBORHOODS.


In 2004, the City Council approved the new Zoning Ordinance re-write, which was updated for the first time since 1957. The fundamental principle of the zoning code


re-write is specifically stated in this sentence from Section 17-2-0101: “The “R” residential districts are intended to create, maintain and promote a variety of housing opportunities for individual households and to maintain the desired physical character of the city’s existing neighborhoods.” Unfortunately, the zoning code does little to maintain the “desired physical character” of our Jefferson Park neighborhood; in fact it ensures the exact opposite, it has allowed wholesale destruction of the character of block after block in our neighborhood. Streets that have an abundance of homes on double (50ft x 125ft) or near double size lots are falling like dominos. Developers are gobbling up these often very nice homes, only to tear them down and erect two homes in their place, creating homes on 25 foot lots or smaller, in neighborhoods that seldom have homes on anything less than 30 foot wide lots. The new Zoning Ordinance has failed to do what its intended purpose was. The main problem is that the RS3 designation does not maintain the character of Jefferson Park and other Far Northwest-side neighborhoods. It is puzzling that City Council went to the trouble to devise a new RS3˝ (RS3.5) designation to the Zoning Ordinance while overhauling the 1957 zoning code but didn’t come up with an RS2˝ or RS1˝.


RS3˝ was devised to address the gulf that exists between R3 and R4, That was nice of them, but how come there isn’t an RS2˝ to address the gulf between R2 and R3???



The RS3.5 was devised to, as the booklet “Principles for Chicago’s New Zoning Ordinance”, put it  …address the gulf that exists between R3 (which can be too restrictive in some settings) and R4 (which can be to permissive in some settings). The new RS3˝ district would have bulk standards to protect the physical character of “in-between” neighborhoods.” That was nice of them, but how come there isn’t a RS2˝ to address the gulf that exists between R2 and R3?  Where was 45th Ward Aldermen Levar when the 2004 zoning re-write was going on?

The character of entire blocks is changing throughout Jefferson Park. Streets like W. Windsor Avenue from Milwaukee west to Long, and Leland Avenue from Long west to Central for example, that have traditionally had homes on double-lots, are being transformed from 80 years of suburban-like character to the “cheek to jowl” look of some Lakeview and Bucktown neighborhoods.

In other City wards, progressive Alderman have erred on the side of caution and down-zoned block after block to RS2 which requires 5000 sq. ft. of lot per dwelling unit rather than RS3 which merely requires 2500 sq. ft. of lot per dwelling unit.

A developer would be required to have a double-lot (50ft x 125ft) to build a new home under RS2. Perhaps that is a little more restrictive than needed but until someone introduces an RS2˝, it is clearly the best way to maintain the desired physical character of our neighborhood.







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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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