I invite you to attend a community meeting about a proposal to demolish a two-flat building at 1531 W. Estes (see photo at right) and replace it with a five-unit townhouse development.
The meeting will take place Wednesday, February 28th, 7:00 p.m., at St. Paul’s Church by the Lake, 7100 N. Ashland (at Estes).
The two-flat building on the site suffered a fire a year ago that rendered the property uninhabitable. The current owner, Gonzalo Escobar, plans to tear down the building and construct five townhouses. Each townhouse unit would have a roof deck and a one-car garage.
Mr. Escobar plans to live in one of the townhouse units and sell the others. He and his business partner, Rogers Park resident Rich Aronson, will present their plans at the community meeting.
Below are renderings of the proposed development that offer two different color options for the facade:
To view the renderings, elevations, and floor and site plans of the proposed development in a pdf format, click on the link below:
The property currently is zoned RT4. In order to build the proposed townhouses, Mr. Escobar and Mr. Aronson must receive from the City Council a zoning change to RM5. They also must receive from the City of Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals variances from the minimum side yard requirements.
The current RT-4 zoning allows for a residential building of up to six dwelling units, but a series of circumstances render it impossible to construct a traditional multi-family apartment building on the site without placing a parking lot or garage in front of the building.
City Zoning Code requires newly constructed residential buildings to provide one parking space for each dwelling unit, unless the property is classified as a transit-oriented development, which this property is not. The property at issue here is not adjacent to an alley and the neighboring buildings on both sides of the lot are built right up to the property line. This combination of circumstances would landlock the rear yard of any traditional apartment building, thus making it impossible to park vehicles behind the building and leaving the front yard as the only parking option.
A front-yard parking lot or garage on the 1500 block of Estes would stick out like a sore thumb. Recognizing this, Mr. Escobar and Mr. Aronson devised a plan to build townhouses perpendicular to Estes Avenue and place the parking spaces underneath the units. The parking spaces would be accessible via a driveway from the street.
Though the zoning allows for a six-unit development, Mr. Escobar and Mr. Aronson are building only five units. They still need a zoning change, however, for two reasons: (1) their proposal calls for a development more dense than the current zoning allows and (2) the proposed townhouse development is two feet closer to the front property line than is currently allowed.
The proposal requires a zoning change to increase the allowable floor area ratio
The Zoning Code determines the allowable density on a parcel under a formula known as “floor area ratio” (or FAR). FAR is the ratio of a building’s total floor area to the size of the piece of land upon which it is built. The greater the allowed FAR, the more dense the development can be.
For example, if you construct a building on a property where the zoning allows an FAR of .5, the total area of the building’s floors must be no more than half the area of the parcel. On the other hand, if the zoning on the property allows an FAR of 2, the area of the building’s floors can be double that of the parcel’s area, and the building would be multi-story.In short, a small floor-area ratio suppresses a building’s density, and a large FAR increases it. Suburban properties tend to be zoned for low FARs (less than 1), and downtown properties are zoned for large ones (7-16.)
In this case, the current RT4 zoning on the Estes property allows for a maximum FAR of 1.2. An RM5 zoning classification allows for a maximum FAR of 2.0. The proposed development calls for an FAR of 1.5, which is above the maximum density allowed under the current zoning, but well within the maximum allowed under an RM5 zoning classification.
The proposal requires a zoning change to decrease the allowable front yard setback
Under the current RT4 zoning, the required minimum “front yard setback” (the distance in which a building is set back from its front property line) for a townhouse development that faces the side yard, such as the development proposed here, is 12 feet from the front property line.
In Chicago, a front property line customarily aligns with the City sidewalk. On the 1500 block of Estes, however, the property line is five feet from the sidewalk. Consequently, the current RT4 zoning on this parcel requires any townhouse development to be set back a minimum of 17 feet from the sidewalk.
The proposed zoning change to RM5 would allow the developers to construct the townhouse development ten feet from the front property line and 15 feet from the sidewalk, two feet closer than allowed under the current RT4 zoning.
The proposal requires a zoning variance to decrease the allowable side yard setbacks
If the City Council grants the developers a zoning change to RM5, the developers still would need a variance from the required minimum “side yard setback” (the distance in which a building is set back from the side property lines). The decision to grant a zoning variance falls within the purview of the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals.
The Zoning Code requires a townhouse structure in an RM5 zone to be set back at least ten feet from the side property lines.
The front entrances to the proposed townhouses face east and are set back three feet from the east side property line. The rear of the proposed development is set back four feet from the west side property line. The developers therefore need a variance on both side yards from the ten-foot minimum side yard requirements–a seven-foot variance on the east side yard and a six-foot variance on the west side yard.
Though the Zoning Board of Appeals takes into account the opinions of the local alderman and community residents, the Board reserves final judgment on any matter that comes before it, including requests for zoning variances.
If the developers receive the required zoning approvals, they can build only what is shown in their plans
I informed the developers that if I were to approve the zoning change, I would do so using Type I Zoning Map procedures. A Type I Zoning Amendment is a relatively recent addition to the City’s Zoning Code. It provides the community a guarantee that if the zoning change is granted, only the proposed project can be built regardless of whether the underlying zoning allows for a different development.
Under a Type 1 amendment, no permits can be issued except those that are in strict compliance with the density shown on the development plan approved by the City Council and in substantial compliance with the setbacks, floor area ratio, parking and building height shown on the development plan that was approved by the City Council. If the developer wishes to make substantial modifications to the approved development plan, he must reapply for the zoning change.
I encourage you to attend the meeting to learn more about the proposed development and share your views. If you are unable to attend the meeting, please feel free to share your opinion by replying to this e-mail.