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Update to Chicago Zoning Rules Streamlines Approval Timeline

Talar Berberian Katriina McGuire December 14, 2023

The Chicago City Council approved a notable revision to the Zoning Ordinance geared toward reducing approval time and procedures for some developments.  

Ordinance 2023-5759 amends Section 17-13-0303 of the Zoning Ordinance on the procedure for seeking variations and administrative adjustments for projects subject to Type 1 rezoning applications. Previously, projects that required variations or administrative adjustments in addition to rezoning had to follow the legislative rezoning process and then seek additional relief from the Zoning Administrator for an administrative adjustment or from the Zoning Board of Appeals (“ZBA”) for a variation.

For example, in the case of a project that requires rezoning to increase the permitted density as well as a rear setback reduction, applicants first had to apply for a zoning change and proceed through introduction at the City Council, a hearing before the Committee on Zoning and final approval and publication of the approval by the City Clerk before an application for a rear setback reduction could be submitted to the Zoning Administrator or the ZBA. While the approval of an administrative adjustment for minor relief can be granted relatively quickly, a trip to the ZBA and the related submission adds several months and significant expense. These approvals often follow an already lengthy and robust rezoning approval process that has likely included community and aldermanic engagement.

The change streamlines these processes and allows applicants to seek relief otherwise permitted by administrative adjustment or variation together with the legislative rezoning process. This revision will not only save considerable time and money but will eliminate the uncertainty of whether the Zoning Administrator or ZBA will approve the relief. Allowing a development to be fully approved from a zoning standpoint at the rezoning stage will be a welcome change.

There are a few things to note. Projects that achieve rezoning and administrative adjustment/variation relief together will have to meet the strict and substantial conformance standards of Type 1 rezoning applications, which are tied to plans submitted therewith. In other words, building permit sets will have to conform to plans submitted with a Type 1 rezoning application strictly with respect to density and substantially with respect to setbacks, floor area ratio, parking and building height. Additionally, for transit served (TOD) projects, we recommend that developers obtain the necessary CDOT approvals prior to the approval of the Type 1 zoning approval. Under this new approval process, extra care should be taken in ensuring plans and materials approved with the Type 1 application reflect all relief necessary for the project to avoid having to amend the Type 1 approvals later. Finally, if a special use approval is required for the development, that will still have to be pursued at the ZBA after the rezoning approval. 

If you have questions about how this streamlined process might apply to a project, please contact Talar Berberian or Katriina McGuire