Chicago updates TOD ordinance to reform parking requirements in four ways

In July, the Chicago City Council updated the city’s nearly decade-old transit-oriented development ordinance, setting minimum density standards in some areas, connecting density bonuses to providing more affordable units, tripling the size of TOD areas, and establishing parking maximums outside of downtown for the first time, among other changes. I’ll focus on the new parking standards; Chicago Cityscape has a complete summary of all of the other changes.

Photo of The Grand at Leavitt, a housing project under construction with signs boasting "heated parking" among other amenities.
This multi-family building under construction has one parking space per unit. If it was permitted after the adoption of the Connected Communities ordinance, the required parking would be one space per two units and any deviation from this standard would require the developer obtain an administrative adjustment. – Photo by Steven Vance

Chicago’s TOD ordinance was first adopted in 2013, and has been revised three times since. The latest revision, dubbed “Connected Communities” by Mayor Lightfoot’s administration, is arguably the biggest. 

One of its most significant changes is massively expanding TOD areas. A TOD area is an area within 1/2 mile of a CTA (rapid transit) or Metra (commuter rail) station entrance or exit or within 1/4 mile of higher-frequency bus routes. It’s the bus routes, which were first included in the 2019 revision, that do the most work expanding the benefits of the TOD ordinance. The number and location of bus routes was expanded in the Connected Communities revision such that nearly three times the number of properties in Chicago are in a TOD area. 

The updated TOD ordinance changes parking rules in Chicago’s TOD areas in four key ways.

Easier permissions to reduce parking further than the default

The TOD ordinance has long established that the default parking requirement for developments in TOD areas zoned for mixed-use was half of the standard amount. To provide even less parking, down to zero parking spaces, the owner or developer of a property had to obtain permission during the property’s zoning change application process or from the Zoning Board of Appeals. 

Connected Communities establishes a new permission process: builders can request the reduction to provide less than half of the standard amount of parking from the Zoning Administrator through the existing “administrative adjustment” process. (However, if a developer is asking for more than one adjustments, for the parking or other code deviations, from the Zoning Administrator, the developer will have to go to the Zoning Board of Appeals and obtain a variation.)

Establishing maximum parking requirements

The zoning code was also modified to establish half of the standard amount as the maximum amount for residential developments in TOD areas. 

If a developer wants to provide more than one parking space per two dwelling units, they must request permission from the Zoning Administrator. Not enough time has passed to know how the Zoning Administrator will manage these requests, and what stipulations or qualifications they may impose. 

On the other hand, the TOD ordinance does not establish a maximum parking rule for non-residential developments. 

Aside: Downtown zoning districts have had maximum parking standards that predate the TOD ordinance. This works together with the TOD ordinance, though, in the case where the parking requirement is reduced to the point where a downtown-only waiver kicks in and eliminates the parking requirement without any permissions or zoning changes.

Parking reductions now allowed in some residential-only

Another major change in the revision is that the parking reduction is offered in certain residential zoning districts – still within TOD areas – for the first time. The same rules, described above, that apply to the mixed-use districts also apply in Chicago’s higher-density residential zoning districts (known locally as RM). 

Waived parking requirements for affordable housing

The final parking change in the revised ordinance is that majority-affordable residential developments in TOD areas can have their parking requirements reduced to zero regardless of the zoning district and without obtaining additional permissions. 

Steven Vance is a member of the PRN Chicago chapter and founder of Chicago Cityscape, a real estate information platform.

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