The Zoning and Land Use Committee offers these FAQ’s to help educate neighbors about zoning in Roscoe Village. Got a zoning question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. These FAQ’s are provided as a public service, and are not intended to be any type of zoning, building, engineering, architectural or legal advice on any specific circumstances. Before buying, renovating or otherwise developing any real property in Roscoe Village, please consult a licensed professional in these matters.
Why do we need zoning?
We need zoning to make sure that streets don’t become a hodgepodge of buildings and uses. There are four principle types of zoning: residential, commercial, manufacturing, and business. Without zoning, you could build a fast-food restaurant next to a home. Or you could build a home next to a manufacturing plant. Zoning determines the size of a building including height, the required setbacks from adjacent property and the building’s use. Zoning also is used to create and preserve neighborhoods with cohesive architecture and land use.
Who is responsible for approving a zoning change?
The full Chicago City Council approves all zoning changes based upon the recommendation of the City Council Committee on Zoning. The recommendation of the Committee on Zoning traditionally is based upon the recommendation of the local alderman.
What is RVN’s role in zoning?
Like many neighborhood groups throughout the city, RVN has a committee of volunteers (ZLUC) that examines zoning issues within the neighborhood’s boundaries. ZLUC’s role is to review the pros and cons of each zoning request and make a recommendation that is consistent with longstanding zoning and land use principles adopted by RVN. The committee’s recommendation can be accepted or rejected by the local alderman.
Would permit parking in Roscoe Village be a good idea to alleviate parking issues?
RVN opposes introducing permit parking to Roscoe Village. We believe that permit parking merely transfers the problem to the borders of any neighborhood rather than solving it. Since parking is dynamic, parking restrictions always transfer the parking deficit from one street to the next and from one area to another.
Restricted parking in our residential areas would adversely impact Roscoe Village businesses. To prosper, the shops and restaurants of Roscoe Street and Belmont Avenue must attract regional customers who require convenient parking in addition to neighborhood customers who can walk to those businesses.
Keep in mind that some of Roscoe Village’s current parking deficits are temporary. During the current building boom, many street parking spaces have been occupied by dumpsters, machinery and contractors’ vehicles. As construction abates, some of our parking issues will be eliminated.
A better way to keep parking issues at bay is to maintain the current zoning classifications on our residential streets, which ensures that most new construction on a typical residential lot will provide a 2 to 1 parking ratio, thereby reducing a parking deficit. Maintaining the existing zoning has decreased the parking deficit as two and three-car garages are constructed for the new generation of single-family homes.
In addition, our neighborhood has convenient transit service, which plays a key role in our neighborhood’s ability to keep parking issues at a minimum. We have two Brown line stops at Addison and Paulina, not to mention the Lincoln, Damen, Western, Addison and Belmont bus lines. When the current renovation of the Brown line is completed, Roscoe Village will have increased public transit capacity.
How do you know what can be built on a Chicago lot?
The answer turns on two things: (a) the size of the lot and (b) the zoning classification of the lot. The size of the lot is its square footage. The zoning classification of the lot can be found on the Department of Zoning’s online zoning map (http://maps.cityofchicago.org/website/zoning/). Each zoning classification, in turn, has qualitative limitations (for example, permitted and prohibited uses) and quantitative limitations (for example, building height and minimum lot area) that effectively define the building that can be built on the lot.
What can I build on my Roscoe Village lot?
If you are talking about a lot on a residential street, the answer is pretty straightforward. The vast majority of lots on the residential streets of Roscoe Village are the same size, 25 feet wide and 125 feet deep; and essentially every lot carries zoning classification RS3. On a lot that size with that zoning classification, you can only build a single family home. The home can be two stories tall plus a basement that is at least 50 percent below grade, but the home cannot exceed 30 feet in height (measured according to the zoning ordinance’s rule, described in the next answer). The aggregate interior square footage of the home can be up to approximately 4,200 square feet (in other words, three floors of 1,400 square feet). The home can also have a detached two-car garage on the lot. For a lot on Roscoe Street (west of Damen), Damen Avenue (south of Roscoe Street), Belmont Avenue, Western Avenue or Addison Street, the discussion is more complicated, as there are a variety of different zoning classifications prevailing on those streets.
I see a lot of new homes in the Village that look like they are taller than 30 feet; how does that happen?
As strange as it may sound, the City’s zoning ordinance does not calculate height simply by measuring from the ground to the highest point of a building. Instead, the zoning ordinance measures height in one of two ways: to the underside of the top floor’s ceiling joist on a building with a flat roof, or to the mean height level between the eaves and the ridge of a pitched or other roof. Section 17-17-0311-A of the zoning ordinance (page 17-43 of this link http://egov.cityofchicago.org/webportal/COCWebPortal/COC_EDITORIAL/17_Terminology_and_Measurements.pdf) has a good diagram of how the rule works. In practice, this measuring rule means that a building that is 30 feet tall for zoning purposes may be up to 40 feet tall, ground to peak.
What about these new homes in the Village that are being advertised at 5,000 square feet?
The zoning ordinance (Section 17-17-0311-B, on page 17-44 of the link above) has some rules on rooftops features (for example, stairway enclosures) that in practice allow a builder to put an elaborate roof deck and roof deck entry structure on the top of an RS3 home. We cannot say for sure, but we believe the 5,000 square feet claim is based on the home’s interior living space square footage (the 4,200 square feet we mentioned above) plus the square footage of the home’s roof deck and roof deck entry structure plus the square footage of the roof deck on top of the home’s detached two-car garage.
If I have two lots together, can I build a home that is twice as big?
Two lots together will allow you to essentially double the interior living space square footage, from 4,200 to 8,400 square feet; however, the home’s height will still be limited to 30 feet (measured according to the zoning ordinance’s rule).
What is RVN’s position on allowing new curb cuts on neighborhood streets to accommodate auto access to properties?
RVN has actively opposed any request for a new curb cut on any property with existing alley access for parking, aesthetic and safety issues. Each curb cut breaks up the clean parkway lines of the block, eliminates one to three public parking spaces, creates a new pedestrian safety risk and introduces an additional traffic safety risk. Approval for a curb cut comes from the Alderman’s office with input from the neighborhood groups. When homeowners and contractors are developing new building or renovation plans, we encourage them to avoid plans that would require new curb cuts.
Is there a requirement for new single-family homes to have a backyard?
The Chicago back yard is vanishing in Roscoe Village (as well as in other neighborhoods) for two reasons: (a) increased market pressure to build larger buildings that take up more rear space on a lot and (b) the limitations of the City’s Zoning Ordinance.
The Zoning Ordinance does have specific requirements regarding a rear area of a lot. For RS3, which is the single family zoning classification for Roscoe Village residential streets, the Zoning Ordinance requires a rear yard setback of 28% of the lot depth, or 50 feet, whichever is less. But that setback space also can be used for parking garages and construction of other detached “encroachments” in addition to open space. As part of the setback, there must be a rear yard open space per dwelling of 6.5% of the lot area or 225 feet, whichever is greater. But according to the zoning ordinance, the open space does not have to be green, and it does not have to be at ground level. Instead, it can be four feet above ground level.
Under current market conditions, few developers opt for ground level open space to be typically covered with greenery. Instead, the permitted back yard has become an elevated complex of porches, decks, steps, arbors, trellises, canopies, sheds, screens, intricate garage roof decks and parapet walls. The back yard has been allowed to disconnect from the earth, levitate and float between and over the garage.
RVN encourages developers and homeowners to rethink how they build their open backspace to consider including a traditional green space along with much needed trees to create a small pastoral respite from the urban fabric.
Does Roscoe Village have the same zoning as other city neighborhoods?
Although the rules and requirements are the same for each zoning classification, each neighborhood may have a different mix of zoning classifications on its streets. What’s special about Roscoe Village is that the residential side streets were zoned RS-3 more than 20 years ago. As a result, the village has a preponderance of single-family homes on tree-lined streets. Roscoe Village also maintains an abundance of street parking due to the low-density housing and an absence of curb cuts, keeping garages accessible from alleys. The other unique part of zoning in Roscoe Village is a zoning “overlay” that regulates the height of development on Roscoe Street.
How do I find out how my property is zoned?
You can check the City’s Department of Zoning website at http://maps.cityofchicago.org/website/zoning/.
I would like to buy an old house in Roscoe Village, tear it down and build a new one. Do I need a zoning change to build my new house?
Not necessarily. If you plan to build a house that complies with the current zoning on that piece of property, then you would not need a zoning change. If you plan to make changes to a piece of property, you should always check the zoning of a particular lot before you purchase that property.
Why are some older buildings taller than new ones built on my residential street?
Some older buildings may indeed be taller than new buildings because the older homes were built before the current zoning ordinance became law in the city of Chicago. Any new construction must comply with the current zoning ordinance, which was passed in 2004. Renovating an existing building, however, may allow an owner to maintain the building’s current height.
I noticed that some new buildings on Roscoe Street are taller than other buildings? Why is that?
The overlay mentioned above was first adopted on Roscoe Street from Damen to Leavitt. Later, the overlay was extended to Western; however, a dispute emerged over whether the extension past Leavitt was eliminated when the City adopted the new Zoning Ordinance in 2004. As a result, buildings were constructed on Roscoe Street west of Leavitt without the overlay height restriction. RVN has always maintained the position that the overlay remained in effect from Damen to Western and there was no record that the overlay west of Leavitt had been eliminated. The City Zoning Administrator investigated this dispute and has agreed with the position taken by RVN.