This is the first post in what might become a video series about the Chicago zoning code. I picked business live/work unit because they’re a rarely seen “use” (an establishment) in Chicago, likely in part due to how few buildings are zoned to allow them and that the rules setting their minimum size might make eligible spaces doubly harder to find.
There is no order! An authentic “Zoning 101” would probably start by describing zoning, but I’m assuming you know that Chicago has a zoning code that defines what can and cannot be built or practiced on every property in the city. Business live/work units are one of those many things the code defines and regulates.
A business live/work unit is distinguished from an artist live/work unit in the Chicago zoning code in that it allows more business types – i.e. more than the creation or practice of art is allowed – but it requires that they happen on the ground floor. Artist live/work units are allowed in more zoning districts as of right (no additional permission necessary) above the ground floor.
What do you want to learn about next? Leave a comment or @ me on Twitter (stevevance).
Links to the relevant parts of the Chicago zoning code:
It’s been three years since I last measured how much of Chicago’s land area is occupied by parking lots and parking garages. On December 25, 2019, using data drawn into OpenStreetMap by volunteers including myself, 2.5 percent of Chicago was for car parking.
Based on additional data since then, the land area of Chicago occupied by already-mapped parking lots and garages is 176,973,866.57 square feet, or about 2.7 percent of Chicago’s area.
This means that 0.52 additional square miles have been drawn into OpenStreetMap. If it hasn’t been drawn there, we can’t measure it. This means this number is a *minimum* of the land area devoted to car parking in Chicago.
That converts to:
7.08 mi^2 (square miles)
15.93km^2 (square kilometers)
2.7% area of Chicago is parking (Chicago’s land area is ~589.56 km^2 )
There are some future parking -> building conversions coming soon. The buildings will be providing parking, but it will be integrated into a mixed-use development. The parking lot in the image, for example, is slated to become an office tower.
Abt now has a sub-$1,000 induction stove. People with children or soon-to-have children should be the first ones looking into how they can replace their gas-burning cooking equipment and improve indoor air quality.
While you’re window shopping, you’ll also need to check your electrical panel…is there a circuit in the kitchen with a 40 amp breaker? If not, you’ll have to hire an electrician to run a new circuit (and a 240 volt outlet) for the induction stove.
Two Chicagoans I know have swapped their gas-burning stoves for induction stoves. You don’t want your children breathing benzene.
One of them is expecting a baby next month, so he replaced the stove earlier this year and had this to say about it:
Historically it’s been that gas was the powerhouse: if you need boiling water quickly, anything else won’t cut it. That’s just not the case now. Our induction stove cooks absurdly fast – we’re talking boiling water for coffee in 2-3 minutes. Lunch, dinner, coffee: the quick cook time makes for real time savings.
I’ve never been one to have a clean stove – too many parts and nooks and crannies. The induction range is one surface that’s easy to wipe. Also, the buttons are all up top towards the back, so our kid won’t be able to turn gas knobs you’d find on traditional stoves.
Overall for our health, the kid’s health and development, and all the bells and whistles that came with the basic model, we are so happy with the purchase.
Upgrading the electrical wiring will take a few weeks, which means you should wait to buy the induction stove until after January 1, 2023, when the Inflation Reduction Act rebates on energy efficient appliances kick in.
If you want to switch now, you can easily buy a single zone portal induction cooktop. Use it to boil water for coffee, tea, or pasta, and start practicing. IKEA sells a portal induction cooktop but won’t deliver it curently.
You probably already have pots and pans that are compatible with induction stoves: All cast iron and many stainless steel cookware are compatible. Even some aluminum and nonstick are compatible if they have a magnetic plate on the bottom.
If you have an old-fashioned electric stove (the kind with coils or a glass stop), I personally would recommend replacing it with induction only when it’s broken. It doesn’t release toxins like gas-burning stoves, so there’s not a need to accelerate replacement.
N.B. I don’t earn any money from clicks on the links in this blog post. I selected Abt because they are a chain local to Chicago, and I conducted a survey of my Twitter followers in 2020 and the majority recommended buying appliances from Abt. I visited Abt’s showroom in Glenview in January 2022 (see photos below), and I was impressed by the store and the salesperson.
I started listening to podcasts in 2021. I am sharing a list of four that I listen to regularly. Surprising to me, none of them are about Chicago.
UCLA Housing Voice is hosted by four UCLA researchers and teachers. Every week during the season (they’re on season two now) they summarize an academic paper about housing and cities and interview the authors. What I like about this is a few things: the consistent format, summarizing academic papers that I don’t have access to and are sometimes painstaking to read and understand, and getting the authors to expand on what they published.
The Livable Low-Carbon City are short, explainer-style episodes about the essentials to designing and redesigning cities and neighborhoods for the low-carbon future that we need. Mike Eliason is well known on “Urbanism Twitter” and “Architecture Twitter” for pushing passive house building techniques, baugruppen (a kind of cooperative housing), and point access blocks. Eliason’s episodes are brief and easy to understand, and are a great outlet to hear about his time working and living with his family in Germany.
Cottage courts (or clusters) are a common multi-family design typology in cities outside of Illinois. You’ll find them in California (where they’re more often called bungalow courts) and Tennessee, for example. They are characterized by having multiple detached one or two-story houses on a single and compact development site. The houses commonly face a shared green space and have shared parking behind them.
A primary benefit of cottage courts – and smaller footprint housing, generally – is that it creates more for-sale detached houses (which are in very high demand in Chicago) while sharing land . In other words, cottage courts create more detached houses using less land.
It is not possible to build a cottage court in Chicago because of how the zoning code is written. The purpose of this article is to discuss specific text amendments that would have to be collectively adopted in order to allow this housing type.
Zoning code barriers
The Chicago zoning code allows only one principal building per lot. A detached house constitutes a principal building and only one of them is allowed. The code would have to be changed to allow more than one principal buildings per lot. If the city council wants to limit this allowance to cottage courts then other code would have to be modified to define a cottage court (similarly to how it has a definition of a townhouse). (Section 17-1-1300 – this anti-housing provision is in the first chapter of the Chicago zoning code!)
Cottage courts should be fee simple , to make them easier to mortgage and sell, which means subdividing a lot into one lot per house. The Chicago zoning code does not allow subdividing a lot below the minimum lot area for the particular zoning district governing a lot. For example, currently in RS-3, if more than one principal building per lot was allowed, each cottage court house would have to occupy 2,500 s.f., which is an untenable size for cottage court development.
Minimum lot area per unit standards also severely restrict development of cottage courts. To build four houses in an RS-3 zoning district one would need a 10,000 s.f. lot!
Rear setbacks would need to be reducible, preferably without the need for a variation from the Zoning Board of Appeals. Because the houses are oriented to face a common green space at the interior of the lot (not at the front or rear of the lot), the rear of the house may be close to the side property line, violating the rear setback standard of ~30 feet.
Side setbacks would need to be combinable or eliminated as a requirement for cottage court development, so that the houses could be closer together or the designer could have more flexibility in their orientation.
Parking requirements would need to be more flexible, both in quantity and in design. Parking is currently allowed only in the rear setback, but these houses may not have a rear setback because of their inward orientation. To maximize shared green space parking requirements should be reducible for this housing type. The Chicago TOD ordinance may be relevant here, as it now applies in RM-5, and higher, residential zoning districts, but the cottage court needs to be allowable in the RS-3 and RT-4 zoning districts (as these are for more common).
Attorneys, designers, and developers: Are there any other Chicago zoning code standards missing?
Examples of cottage courts
I know of two cottage court examples in Chicago (thanks, Matt and Matt):
7436 S Phillips Ave (et. al.). These were built prior to 1952, according to historic aerial images, and are individually parceled (see barrier #2 above).
7433 S Euclid Pkwy (et. al.). The houses were built between 1938 and 1952, according to historic aerial images, and are individually parceled. Two of the parcels are vacant.
1802 S Kildare Ave (et. al.). The houses were built after 1950.
All of the images below are from the Missing Middle Housing website, created by Opticos Design, an architecture firm that has popularized the term “missing middle”.
A tiny house village may also be considered a cottage court. The influential architecture firm, Landon Bone Baker, once designed a proposed tiny house village (knowing full well it was not legal) for Thresholds and Easter Seals in Chicago.
 It’s also assumed that sharing land means sharing land costs, and land costs are a significant part of purchasing a house. In the areas where demand for detached houses is the highest, land costs are also the highest. Cottage courts create more detached houses with less land.
 fee simple has a legal meaning, but here I mean “the house owner also owns the land beneath the house”, and the pair are collateral for the lender that, on paper, looks like any other detached house the lender has mortgaged.