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Logan Square alderman downzoning stretch of Milwaukee Avenue

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A pair of privately-owned lots at Milwaukee and Spaulding would be limited in what their owners may build

Milwaukee & Spaulding
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As Chicago’s red-hot Milwaukee Avenue is in the midst of adding more than 1,500 apartment units, one Chicago alderman is flexing his legislative muscles by pumping the brakes on not one but two coveted properties along the booming North Side corridor. Stating that after listening to concerns from local neighborhood groups, 35th Ward Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa is using his power to downzone properties in order to prevent what he describes as “developer greed” from trumping community needs.

Typically, changes to zoning for new developments tend to be part of a more transparent and democratic process. Chicago aldermen, however, can act far more unilaterally when it comes to downzoning a property. Because of this, these changes sometimes occur under the radar and with little to no public fanfare.

A conceptual rendering showing a new apartment tower at 2700 N. Milwaukee.
Image via Crain’s Chicago Business

Last month, Chicago’s City Council passed an ordinance introduced by Alderman Rosa to downzone the three-building, 1.6-acre parcel at 2700 N. Milwaukee. Months earlier, it was reported that long-time property owners Barbara and Victor Diaz decided to put the land—estimated by Crain’s to be worth as much as $30 million—on the market for redevelopment. Though no specific plan for the large lot was formally proposed, the alderman made the move as a sort of preemptive strike.

Meanwhile, just across the street, DNAinfo reports that Rosa is threatening to use the same maneuver at 2747 N. Milwaukee Avenue. A pending downzone would block property owner R.P. Fox & Associates from building a 60-unit apartment project at the site of the former Pierre's Bakery building. While the developers were initially planning to build “as-of-right” and within the site’s existing zoning, they may now see those entitlements stripped away unless provisions are made to set aside a certain number of units for affordable housing.

Because the project doesn’t require any zoning change or financial assistance from the city, the parcel isn’t subject to Chicago’s 10 percent affordable housing minimum. In a self-described effort to “keep Logan Square eclectic and diverse,” Rosa has introduced a separate ordinance to change the property’s zoning to a low-density B1-1 designation. The measure already passed Chicago’s Committee on Zoning and Landmarks and will require only the approval of the Chicago City Council to take full effect.

2747 N. Milwaukee
Google Street View

Stripping land of its zoning is a very effective, albeit heavy-handed, way for a local elected official to control what gets built within his or her ward. However, it has the potential to be applied unfairly and represents somewhat of a slippery slope when it comes to infringing on the property rights of private individuals. In the past, some Chicago land owners fought such reclassifications with legal suits.

It’s also important to recognize that this doesn’t mean the sites in question will never get redeveloped. Zoning designations can be and very often are increased—or “upzoned”—by navigating each ward’s individualized community-driven process. Alderman Rosa reaffirmed this fact in the following statement, received this week via email:

"Our 35th Ward Community-Driven Zoning and Development process ensures community input and community needs are prioritized over developer greed. As part of our community-driven process, our Logan Square table - composed of Logan Square Preservation, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, and We Are/Somos Logan Square - recommended downzoning portions of Milwaukee Avenue. Downzoning limits density, height, and allowable uses, any developer seeking a future upzone of a previously downzoned property must go through our community-driven process."