Tag: ADU

Ald. Lawson re-introduces ordinance to jumpstart sagging ADU program

I wrote this summary of the ADU changes this proposed ordinance (O2023-2075) would implement (with my commentary in parentheses).

Before you read on, though, please sign the Urban Environmentalists Illinois petition to show your support for allowing ADUs citywide.

  • It allows ADUs citywide (this is the most important change to speed up adoption)
  • Expands to B and C1, C2 zoning districts (this is important because there are thousands of residential-only properties that are incorrectly zoned in B and C districts which don’t allow ADUs)
  • It also allows ground floor commercial conversions but only if 40% of more of the property length is commercial space.
  • It allows a property owner to have both an interior ADU and a backyard house ADU (currently you can have one or more interior ADUs or a backyard house)
  • It removes the 700 s.f. cap on floor area in backyard houses.
  • It allows property owners who want to build a coach house to ask the zoning administrator to waive parking requirements for the principal building. 
  • It would require a special use from the ZBA to establish an ADU in RS-1 and RS-2 zoning districts. These are much less common than the other R zoning districts and 0 ADUs have been permitted in those districts since May 1, 2021. 
  • It allows the property owner OR the city to notify the alder of a proposed ADU permit application. 
  • It eliminates the need for the property owner to notify their two adjacent neighbors. 
  • It doesn’t change the affordability requirements when proposing to build 2 or more interior ADUs. 
  • It eliminates the restrictions in the 3 southern limit areas that limited the number of ADU permits per block per year (this restriction ended up having no effect due to little demand in those areas). 
  • It eliminates the requirement that to build a coach house at a 1-3 unit house it had to be owner occupied (only in the 3 southern pilot areas, again this restriction ended up having no effect due to little demand in those areas). 

The changes would take effect 120 days after passage. It’s no guarantee that all of these will remain in the final version!

The ADU program in Chicago needs this. As I pointed out in my comment to the Chicago City Council Committee on Zoning, Landmarks, and Building Standards, the number of ADU permits has been declining since December 2022.

Comment to Chicago’s committee on zoning about expanding ADUs

This doesn’t fully match with what I spoke at the Chicago City Council committee on zoning, landmarks, and building standards on April 16, 2024 (meeting agenda), because it was written for about two and a half minutes but due to the high number of public commenters Vice Chair Lawson (44th Ward) reduced everyone’s maximum speaking time from 3 minutes to 2 minutes so I made some on-the-fly cuts. Ordinance O2023-2075.

My name is Steven Vance. I am a Chicago resident and a land use consultant. In two weeks the city will reach the three-year anniversary of when Chicagoans could start applying for building permits to build accessory dwelling units, otherwise known as ADUs. Locally we call them garden apartments and coach houses.

In that time, the city has permitted approximately 237 projects comprising 275 new ADU homes. 75% of these are or will be in basements, and a little less than 20% are or will be in backyard or “coach” houses. 

11% of these homes are required to be rented at affordable rates set by the Department of Housing each year.

That’s 271 new homes that are or will be providing housing for family members, providing new income for property owners, and picking away at the city’s housing shortage of 120,000 homes. But the opportunity is not available to everyone, and the number of ADU permits issued each quarter has been declining since December 2022. 

The number of ADU permits has been declining. I include the graph here to illustrate my point but I did not present the graph during my comment.

City Council adopted five pilot areas, a limitation that doesn’t need to stick around. Hundreds of currently interested property owners are prohibited from building an ADU. Their current alternative is to undertake a costly zoning change process to gain the privilege of building one or two more units on their properties. (However, shoutout to the few alderpersons who facilitate this process on behalf of their constituents.)

I operate Chicago Cityscape, a real estate information website that also has advice on building ADUs and a tool to look up if a property is in an ADU pilot area. 

As of last week, people have looked up 815 addresses in 48 wards…but…70% of those addresses were not in a pilot area and those people will not be able to build an ADU at this time.

I believe those permitting and address lookup statistics show that ADUs, while representing less than 3% of new construction homes, are popular. They allow for Chicagoans to modify their properties to age in place, fund renovations and property taxes, or move a family member to be closer. Now is the time to expand this benefit to all of Chicago and I urge the City Council to drop the geographic ban as soon as possible.

Finally, Mayor Johnson’s Cut The Tape initiative includes citywide ADUs as a phase 2 strategy, so ADUs are something City Council should support. [This part was added last second.]

It’s (again) time to submit a “witness slip” in favor of the Illinois ADU bill

The ADU legalization bill that I discussed last month in a post about State Rep. Kam Buckner’s three statewide land use reforms has been assigned a committee and hearing date and time. This means individuals can submit witness slips in favor of allowing “accessory dwelling units” up and down the state.

The Cities & Villages Committee will meet on Tuesday, April 2, at 4 PM, which is also the deadline to submit a witness slip (instructions below).

How to submit a witness slip for ADUs

The deadline is 3/12/24 at 4 PM.

  1. First, open up the ILGA’s Witness Slip webpage for HB4213.
  2. In the witness slip form, fill out your name, address, and city.
  3. In the “Firm/Business Or Agency” field, enter “self” or the name of an organization you’re representing.
  4. In the “Title” field, enter “self” or your title in the organization you’re representing.
  5. Enter your email and phone number.
  6. In the “Representation” field, enter “self” or the name of the organization you’re representing.
  7. In the “Position” section select the “Proponent” radio button.
  8. In the “Testimony” section tick the “Record of Appearance Only” checkbox.
  9. Tick the “I agree” checkbox
  10. Finally, select the “Create Slip” button and you’re done!

Submitting a witness slip is an easy thing to do from home. If you’d like to elevate your advocacy for housing options in Illinois, email or call your state legislator, and join Urban Environmentalists of Illinois to learn about getting even more involved.

Illinois might join the country’s league of states adopting land use reforms

Illinois House Representative Kam Buckner (26th district) has introduced three bills that would adopt land use reforms across all or a lot of the state. This is a trend happening across the United States to address twin crises of low housing construction and limited affordable housing caused in large part by individual municipalities restricting new housing.

I’ve summarized the three proposed bills below. If you would like to help get these adopted, join the Urban Environmentalists of Illinois.

Allowing accessory dwelling units

Accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are apartments and small backyard houses that are built to provide on-site housing for family members, or generate additional income. They are usually allowed by amending zoning codes to add design parameters that treat them differently than apartments, detached, or attached houses and exempt them from typical density limitations inherent in nearly all zoning codes.

Buckner filed HB4213 in November 2023, which would disallow any unit of local government in Illinois from prohibiting ADUs, which most governments in Illinois do through various zoning rules (the main one being that a residentially-zoned parcel is only allowed to have a single building).

A bill like this has already been adopted in California, Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire (at a minimum).

Letters to the editor

I submitted a letter to the editor in March and am waiting for the media outlet to select it for publication.

Coach houses are one type of small backyard house, common in Chicago. This one in Lakeview was built in 2023.

Lifting parking mandates

Buckner submitted HB4638 in January 2024 to get local governments out of the business of forcing a minimum number of car parking spaces at developments near transit, which are currently established without any rationale. You might say the amount of space cities require businesses and apartment buildings to provide is based on vibes.

Letters to the editor

  • My letter to the editor describing the benefits of not requiring so much parking everywhere, and specifically mentioned this bill, was published in The Daily Line in February.
  • Pete Snyder’s letter to the editor was published in the Chicago Sun-Times in March and asks Chicago to “finish the job” that the Connected Communities ordinance started and remove parking mandates citywide.
There are so many better things we can do for a community than dedicating land for car parking.

Allowing more than one home per lot

Most municipal zoning codes in Illinois have a zoning district called something like “R1” that allows one detached house on a lot, often setting a very large minimum lot size that must be assembled before construction can begin. Municipal leaders then apply R1 broadly within their municipalities’ boundaries, effectively banning condos, townhouses, row houses, and apartments – the most affordable kinds of homes to buy and rent.

Buckner introduced HB4795 in February 2024; it would apply to the state’s eight largest cities and require them to allow at least a “duplex” (two-unit house) on every parcel that allows a detached single-family house.

Naperville would be one of the covered municipalities; the city allows two-family dwellings in R2 zoning districts and slightly more homes per lot in the higher-number R zoning districts. Their B1 neighborhood shopping district also allows multi-family housing.

But the Naperville zoning map shows how prevalent R1 and its friends the “E” estate districts are: the vast majority of the city is zoned to allow only single detached houses.

Letters to the editor

My letter to the editor in support of this bill was published in the Chicago Sun-Times on February 26, 2024.

Why ADUs need to be allowed across Chicago exhibit #42

Alternative headline: The zoning map and the zoning code work hard to limit new housing and density.

Several times a week I browse the descriptions of recently issued building permits in Chicago to find the “interesting” projects so I can post those on the Chicago Cityscape social media accounts and keep people apprised of neat things happening.

I also track when new ADU permits are issued, because the city does not.

Yesterday a permit with the description of “basement to be converted to an additional legal dwelling unit” was issued in Roscoe Village, so I went to the city’s list of ADU pre-approval applications to determine if the permit was for an ADU or the applicant was taking advantage of the property’s #UnusedZoningCapacity.

It was not an ADU, and since it was zoned RS-3 – which bans multi-unit housing – it was also not the owner taking advantage of #UnusedZoningCapacity.

Two-flats of South Chicago
A row of two-flats in Chicago (the one in the story is not pictured).

What was permitted?

I went to the city’s online zoning map to look for other clues, and I found that the property was involved in two Zoning Board of Appeals actions. This is where the story gets interesting. I will do my best to summary the proceedings but I must disclaim that I am not a lawyer.

The Zoning Board of Appeals is an appointed, quasi-judicial body that has three primary functions:

  1. Grant variations where the zoning code authorizes them to (deviations from the code because of atypical circumstances or circumstances that have been previously deemed to require additional review).
  2. Grant special uses where the zoning code authorizes them to (business types that have been previously deemed to require additional or special review).
  3. Appeal decisions made the Zoning Administrator, the person who works for the City of Chicago in the Chicago Department of Planning & Development (and by extension, the plan review staff).

There is a provision in the Chicago zoning code that says that houses that, upon special request, the Zoning Administrator (ZA) can grant an Administrative Adjustment (AA) to allow an additional dwelling unit at houses that are 50 years old or older (subject to other provisions in 17-13-1003-BB).

The owner – also known as the applicant in this blog post – of the two-flat decided to request this AA. The ZA said that the applicant was not eligible for the AA. “The Appellant [applicant] then attempted to seek a variation before the Zoning Board of Appeals” because the ZBA can “grant a variation for any matter expressly authorized as an administrative adjustment”.

Before an applicant can approach ZBA, though, they must apply for a building permit and receive an official “denial of zoning certification” (more on this at the end). This “denial” means, in the unofficial layperson’s zoning translation dictionary, “the permit reviewers see what you’re trying to do and while it’s not permitted as of right under the circumstances you can take this certificate and apply for relief from the ZBA”.

The ZA, who oversees the permit reviewers’ review of a building permit application’s adherence to zoning standards, “refused to issue” the denial. They did this pursuant to 17-16-0503-A, which says the ZA “may deny or withhold all permits, certificates or other forms of authorization on any land or structure or improvements thereon upon which there is uncorrected violation of a provision of this Zoning Ordinance…” The building had an uncorrected building violation citation from 2007.

The property owner disagreed with the application of that section of the zoning code. They filed an appeal and asked the ZBA to reverse the ZA’s decision to refuse issuing the denial. (In the same filing the applicant also asked the ZBA to legalize the basement garden unit, which they declined to do.

I’m going to skip a bunch of the proceedings, which are in the attached meeting minutes from two meetings, but conclude that the ZBA “finds that the ZBA did err in refusing to issue the Appellant an official denial of zoning certification” and ordered the ZA to issue the denial.

The story ended well

Having won the appeal, the applicant has the official denial of zoning certification and can proceed to file a new case with the ZBA and request a variation asking, again, for them to grant them the administrative adjustment that the ZA had previously said the applicant was not eligible for.

The applicant’s building permit for the additional unit was issued on June 7, 2023. The processing time on the building permit was 961 days, which should represent the date when the applicant first submitted the building permit application with the intention of getting the official denial of zoning certification from the ZA.

The result was that the city lost an additional home in a high-amenity, high-resource neighborhood for three years and a property owner had to pay thousands in legal fees.

Attachments

  • 124-22-A. The appeal of the ZA’s denial to issue the official denial of zoning certification.
  • 12-23-Z. The variation granting the property owner the right to establish an additional dwelling unit in the two-flat.