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City’s TOD policy expands to eight bus corridors encouraging new housing projects

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More transit-oriented development could be coming to Chicago’s South and West sides

A proposal to expand the city’s transit-oriented development policy to eight bus corridors was introduced at Wednesday’s City Council meeting. The city’s TOD policy includes incentives for developers such as eliminating parking requirements and allowing for greater height and density.

In October, the mayor announced that the Chicago Avenue and 79th Street bus routes would be part of the expansion. Now eight high-ridership corridors with 20 bus lines are part of the proposal which includes 55th and Garfield Boulevard, 63rd Street, Ashland Avenue, North Lake Shore Drive, South Lake Shore Drive, and Western Avenue.

“Expanding transit-oriented development to bus routes brings neighborhood-scale development potential to often overlooked corridors and provides residents with affordable housing options that can substantially reduce transportation costs,” said Dr. Helene Gayle, President and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust in a statement. “Too often, transportation systems are used to separate. TOD is fundamentally about connection to opportunity in our own neighborhoods and in the neighborhoods the bus or train takes us to.”

Under the proposal, developers would be allowed to build more dense apartment projects without parking garages under a streamlined approval process. The proposal also expands parking reduction incentives to certain higher density, multi-unit residential districts. To qualify, a project needs to be within a quarter-mile of the bus route, or within a half-mile if the development is located on a pedestrian-designated street.

The proposed expansion will now include a lot more streets on the South and West sides. The TOD policy—paired with other development initiatives such as Retail Thrive Zones, Neighborhood Opportunity Funds, and the Opportunity Zones program—aims to generate more business and housing in these neighborhoods. Developments that meet the TOD requirements also must comply with the city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance which mandates projects dedicate a percentage of units to affordable housing.

“In spite of decades of disinvestment, the commercial thoroughfares along 55th, 63rd and 79th streets have fought hard to remain vibrant and relevant. Businesses and residents have been resilient, and the momentum to restore these areas is in full swing. I believe this expanded ordinance will spark further development on these major corridors, benefitting thousands of users of the Green and Red line stations, and those who ride the heavily used bus lines,” said Ghian Foreman, Washington Park Development Group and Elevated Chicago Steering Committee member in a statement.

Chicago’s TOD policy began in 2013 and was heavily expanded in 2015. It’s probably most notable for the changes along Milwaukee Avenue where new apartments quickly spurted up near Blue Line stations.

Some residents argued that this policy helped accelerate gentrification in certain neighborhoods. As part of the ordinance, the city will publish an assessment of the impact and recommend revisions after 18 months to specifically address gentrification, congestion, transit needs, or other issues.