Zoning code reviewed

Other blogs give you movie reviews. This one reviews zoning codes every once in a while; here, Chicago (“synopsis”:http://egov.cityofchicago.org/webportal/COCWebPortal/COC_ATTACH/zoningcode_highlights.html | “full text”:http://w14.cityofchicago.org:8080/zoning/default.jsp), as posted to pro-urb.

1. Urbanism: good. Nothing groundbreaking, but even the 1957 ordinance wasn’t bad. The new, finer grain of residential districts, required rear open space, contextual (averaged) front setbacks, new building envelope specifications, and Pedestrian Street designation have all worked very well. Some difficult sites (like acute-angle “flatirons”) are now once again developable.

However, nothing can stop cut-rate construction con artists from making a buck off a housing bubble; enforcement of building and zoning codes alike has been a problem, including brazen violation of height limits, shearing off of promised ornament, and parking garage bloat. Law enforcement, as you might have heard, has never been among Chicago’s strengths.

(Question: how well have urban pattern books fared, given today’s shoddy standards? I liked the “Norfolk pattern book”:http://www.norfolk.gov/Planning/comehome/Norfolk_Pattern_Book/residents.html, and I’m aware of the Prince’s Foundation work in teaching craftsmen, but even our prized, design-guidelined historic districts get the same schlock as anywhere else. I can’t imagine that a mere pattern book would’ve stopped the developers of “this”:http://flickr.com/photos/tags/ugliestbuildingever.)

2. Simplicity: fair. Not having to deal with those endless pages of uses makes a difference, as do the illustrations, but honestly the old code was pretty straightforward. Several new practices were introduced that create some basic level of design review, including “type 1 rezonings” (attach a site plan) and the lower PUD thresholds.

3. Process: poor. The alderman still zones however’s best for his campaign fund (e.g., pro-developer or pro-NIMBY), context and best practices be damned. Of course, the code could not have changed this. We also have absolutely no tradition of forward planning here; stuff just happens, and as a result transit routes traverse dying industrial and overpriced single-family areas while developers go wild with high-rises a mile away.

Having some rather intransigent aldermen on the drafting committee did not help [the principal authors’] job any. Farr & Associates wrote the pedestrian streets language and contributed elsewhere.

bq. _Dennis McClendon_: The bonus for green roofs must be particularly cost-effective, because every developer now claims it. Personally I’m dubious about the effectiveness of these little squares of chia pet

My favorite still remains the acre of sod atop a west-side home-improvement big box, adjacent to the 10-acre asphalt slab. Yep, that’ll show ’em.