Tag: public comment

Comment to zoning committee about why a full ZBA is important

Oral public comment given on April 9, 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 regularly consult on projects that require zoning approvals from this committee, as well as the Zoning Board of Appeals, and the Zoning Administrator. I am here to urge the City Council to amend the zoning ordinance to ensure that the Zoning Board of Appeals can function when there are not enough board members.

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. Currently, however, the Zoning Board of Appeals has only three members. This status puts the timely approval of dozens of applications for special use, variation, or other forms of relief at risk. 

This shortfall at the ZBA materially jeopardizes new development, especially matters involving new housing. At the ZBA meeting in February a proposal for shelter housing in Uptown failed to receive three votes required to be approved. The project received two affirmative and two negative votes. The project could have passed if the board had all five members. 

The ZBA’s current state is bound to affect more projects. At least two other shelter housing applications that have support from the Chicago Department of Housing are intending to be heard this year at ZBA. However, these proposals may be forced to wait until the ZBA has a full membership or else suffer the same fate as the shelter that failed at the ZBA in February. This could push back construction and operations of the shelter, and further exacerbate the housing and homelessness crisis in Chicago.

The Mayor and City Council should take meaningful steps to address housing and homelessness in the City. Rather than wait for the mayor to appoint additional members to the ZBA, the City Council should amend the code to allow alternates to sit in when there are fewer than five regular appointed ZBA members. The current code only allows alternates to sit in for regular members who are missing that day. 

I urge the committee to consider an amendment to the Code to allow ZBA to operate during a time like this when the board has too few members. Additionally, the mayor’s Cut The Tape initiative includes strategies to change zoning codes to ensure shelters are allowed to be built in more places and circumstances. I would urge the committee to support adopting the ordinance needed to effect that strategy.

The progression of development and housing for vulnerable Chicagoans depends on your actions.

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.]