The City Council Zoning Committee approved an amended version of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed expansion of the city’s Transit Oriented Development (TOD) guidelines, which gives developers incentives to build near the city’s public transit stations.

Aldermen Present (committee members in bold):  Chairman Danny Solis (25), Vice Chairman James Cappleman (46), Joe Moreno (1), Anthony Beale (9), David Moore (17), Matt O’Shea (19), Walter Burnett Jr. (27), Deb Mell (33), Gilbert Villegas (36), Brendan Reilly (42), Tom Tunney (44), John Arena (45), Ameya Pawar (47).

Aldermen, real estate developers, land use attorneys, and community organizers packed Room 201A (Budget and Finance were holding back to back meetings in the City Council Chambers), as the City’s Zoning Administrator, Patti Scudiero debriefed the room on the last minute changes the Mayor’s Office made to the original TOD-expansion plan the mayor introduced at the July City Council meeting.

Zoning Chairman Danny Solis (25) tabled a vote on the original proposal at the last zoning meeting, citing the need for revisions.

One of the biggest changes to the original proposal has to do with on-site parking requirements. Any developer building within a fourth of a mile (1,320 ft) of a CTA station and a half of a mile (2,640 ft) of a Metra station would need need to apply for a special use permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals if they want to completely eliminate on-site parking from their development plans. A 50% parking reduction is already allowed under the proposed ordinance.

Developers who want to completely eliminate on-site parking would have to prove getting rid of parking wouldn’t impact the surrounding neighborhood, by proof of plans to promote car alternatives. This could mean more bike racks and parking spaces for car sharing companies like Zipcar.

Calling parking requirements a sometimes “explosive issue,” Ald. Tom Tunney (44) questioned whether the zoning board should be involved in the review process for TOD sites at all. He said the change might remove aldermanic involvement in local zoning issues, a key component of an alderman’s power in a ward. Aldermen are allowed to testify and submit evidence supporting or denouncing applications that go before ZBA, but it is the four-member panel that gets the final say in whether a special use permit will be granted or denied.

Tunney was also concerned about further burdening the zoning board, which currently has a three-month backlog of applications. At the ZBA’s monthly meeting in August, Chairman Jonathan Swain had to schedule deferrals for December, because September, October and November slots are completely booked.

In her response to Ald. Tunney’s concerns, Scudiero noted ZBA is the appropriate and legal channel to discuss parking requirements, because their decisions are “fact-based” and they are currently the only zoning body allowed to dole out special use permits to eliminate on-site parking.

The second major change to the original TOD expansion plan allows for up to 100% efficiency units in new housing developments located within one block of a CTA or Metra station. Scudiero said over the past year, many of the housing development projects within a block of transit prefer these smaller units.

“[This change] would mean that a project could reduce their parking, increase the amount of efficiency units, and get smaller, more affordable units closer to the train station, which we believe is the most necessary spot,” Scudiero explained.

The third change to the original ordinance has to do with filing requirements for TOD-designated projects. Developers that wish to take advantage of the increases to building height and floor-area-ratios (FAR), would have to file their request as a Type 1 zoning application instead of a planned development.

Calling “Type 1” applications a “mini planned development”, Scudiero said the filing changes allow for more transparency to and public review of TOD projects, without burdening developers with an additional five months added to the review process. All Planned Developments must go before the Plan Commission before the City Council Zoning Committee can vote on them. The Commission hears an average of five PD plans per month.

While Type 1 applications don’t require Plan Commission approval, these applications do require additional information from developers, including a “narrative zoning and development analysis” describing floor-area-ratios, density (the lot area per dwelling unit), off-street parking, and building height. Type 1 applications must also include drawings, photographs and/or plans illustrating the proposed building’s scale in relation to nearby buildings, and measurements detailing adjacent sidewalks, parking, loading areas, and landscaping plans.