Update: As of July 5, the ZBA has three members and not four as I stated in my comment. Additionally, there is a transitional shelter scheduled for the July 19, 2024, ZBA meeting which may be at risk of not getting approved if one or more of the three members has a nay vote.

June 25, 2024

Hello members of the Chicago city council committee on zoning, landmarks, and building standards. My name is Steven Vance. I am a resident of the city of Chicago and an urban planner. I have spoken to this committee multiple times this year about matters that affect how much housing gets approved to be built in the city. 

I reiterate my comment from your April 8, 2024, meeting that the committee should amend the zoning ordinance to ensure that the Zoning Board of Appeals can function when there are not enough board members. Nearly three months later the ZBA is still incomplete. The City’s Municipal Code requires that the ZBA has five members and two alternates. Alternates fill in for members when they are unable to attend meetings, due to illness or personal matters. 

Screen grab showing a thumbnail of me speaking to committee.

In February, the ZBA was short two members which may have led to the failure to approve a proposed shelter in Uptown, as proposals require three affirmative votes and the proposal received two affirmative votes. The ZBA having incomplete membership puts the timely approval of applications for special use and variations at risk. This shortfall materially jeopardizes new development, especially matters involving new housing.

Since April, Mayor Johnson appointed two members, but only one, Adrian Soto, has been confirmed. 

The ZBA’s current state of four members is bound to affect more projects. I mentioned in April that at least two more shelter housing applications, which have support from the Chicago Department of Housing, are intending to be heard this year at ZBA but those projects have yet to come before ZBA. 

The proponents of those shelters could be feeling forced to wait until the ZBA has a full membership or else suffer the same fate as the shelter that failed at ZBA in February. This could push back construction and operations of the shelters, and further exacerbate the housing shortage and homelessness crisis in Chicago.

The Mayor and City Council should immediately take any reasonable steps within its authority to address housing and homelessness in the City, including:

  • First, prioritizing a fifth member.
  • Second, making pragmatic amendments to the code to allow alternates to sit in when there are fewer than five regular appointed ZBA members. The current code allows alternates to sit in only for regular members who are missing that day, and
  • Third, the committee should advance the Cut The Tape initiative which recommends revising zoning code requirements that “require all shelters and transitional housing developments to seek approval from ZBA, regardless of building size, form, or underlying zoning designation” – closer to an “as of right” situation that applies to most kinds of housing. 

 I speak for many when I urge this committee to legalize housing and adopt changes to effect such a strategy.