Transit-oriented development rules would expand to sites near bus lines under city plan

The change would allow developers to devote much less space to parking in projects along four major bus routes
By Alex Nitkin | June 22, 2018 04:00PM

The Inland Group’s planned 100-unit development in Logan Square and the 79th Street CTA bus (Credit: David Wilson via Flickr)

Minimum parking requirements would be relaxed for developments near some high-volume bus lines under a plan announced Friday by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Approved in 2013 and expanded two years later, Chicago’s transit-oriented development ordinance allows those building within a half-mile of CTA and Metra rail stations to skirt the traditional one-to-one ratio of parking spaces to units.

Since 2015, developers have seized on the ordinance to waive almost all car parking for some apartment buildings in high-traffic areas, especially along the Blue Line in Bucktown and Logan Square.

City transportation planners this year will “study potential approaches” to widen transit-oriented development zones to spur denser projects along “high-ridership, high-frequency” bus routes including Western, Ashland and Chicago avenues and 79th Street.

In 2017, the CTA gave about 20,000 more rides on its 129 bus routes than were recorded on its eight train lines, although that gap has been shrinking since 2008, according to city data.

Alan Lev, CEO of the Belgravia Group, called the expansion of the program “very welcome news” for apartment developers, whose tenants tend to favor cars less than condo buyers do.

In 2014, Belgravia took advantage of the original ordinance to build a 150-unit apartment building near the Ravenswood Metra Station with just 105 parking spots — some of which still haven’t been leased, Lev said.

A one-to-one parking ratio would have required Belgravia to “pay to build that extra space, with no expected revenue from it,” Lev said. “Part of it is the Metra, and part of it is just a new living style we’re seeing.”

Transit-oriented development zones also allow the construction of buildings with higher floor-area ratios, allowing them to fit more units onto a given property. But the lower parking requirements are “where the big savings come from,” according to John Brown, vice president of development at the Inland National Development Company.

Inland last week secured a permit for a 100-unit apartment building along the Blue Line in Logan Square that took advantage of the ordinance by including just 29 parking spots.

“Parking is usually under the building or on a podium, and that’s some of the most expensive space you can build, especially considering it generates almost no revenue,” Brown said.

Emanuel’s announcement comes a day after he touted the launch of a $30 million fund he said would dole out low-cost financing to residential developments that include at least 20 percent affordable units. Details on the fund are scarce, but Emanuel said it would be seeded with $5 million from the city’s budget with the goal of attracting $25 million in private investments.

Emanuel has signaled that he’s preparing a major speech on preserving affordable housing, set to be a key plank in his third-term platform. The mayor is amassing a suite of new proposals in advance of February’s election, when a growing field of challengers will vie to end his reign at two terms.

The expanded transit-oriented development ordinance could go a long way to ease the path for developers planning new apartments, but it may be harder for the investment fund to make a dent, Lev said.

“$30 million is nothing to sneeze at, but that just doesn’t sound like it’s very robust when you’re talking about the entire city,” Lev said. “But the devil is in the details.”