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Commentary: I want an ADU, but the RS-2 exclusion would prevent me from building one

Published on Sep. 8, 2020 by Steven Vance

Updated on Sep. 10, 2020

Commentary: “My parents live with me and my children, and I want an ADU, but the RS-2 exclusion prevents me”

I asked some people who want the city to let them build a backyard home or other accessory dwelling unit to speak at the Chicago zoning committee meeting on Tuesday, 9/8/20, even though the ADU ordinance was not on the agenda. I said last week that it was unlikely that the ADU ordinance, which was introduced in May 2020, would be heard at the committee meeting. A revision ordinance is expected, but it hasn’t been introduced yet.

Carmin Ballou has already talked to three architects, including Monica Chadha, about the design feasibility of building a backyard home. However, the proposed ordinance would require that Carmin obtain a “special use” from the Zoning Board of Appeals, a costly and uncertain endeavor, because the ordinance treats RS-1 and RS-2 zoning districts differently, and her house happens to be in an RS-2 zoning district — excluded in the proposed ordinance along with over 162,000 other properties. Carmin permitted me to reprint her speech to the committee.

Hi, my name is Carmin Ballou and I’m here to speak in favor of the passage of an ADU ordinance, but in particular to request that RS-1 and RS-2 houses be included in that ordinance. I want to thank many of you present today for working on this issue, but as a 47th Ward resident, I also want to thank Matt Martin for his advocacy on it.

Left: Carmin Ballou contacted Civic Projects, one of the design firms on the Chicago Cityscape ADU Service Providers list; Civic Projects created this feasibility diagram depicting how a backyard home would fit on Carmin’s property. Right: Carmin’s backyard and existing garage. The proposed ordinance would require owners whose properties are in RS-1 and RS-2 zoning districts (the case with Carmin’s house) to obtain a “special use”.

Our multi-generational household has been following the ordinance closely because first, we support the expansion of affordable housing in our neighborhood. Our neighborhood has grown increasingly expensive and puts access to the quality neighborhood school and the safety the neighborhood provides out of reach for many. We support the addition of affordable housing units in many forms, but particularly today through the introduction of an ADU ordinance to expand access to affordable units.

Second, because we are interested in the option for our family of three generations. My parents moved from Nebraska three years ago and while they initially explored getting their own unit, we value our time and like living in close proximity to each other, including sharing meals to assisting with piano lessons to playing numerous board games. We want to stay together. We value the experience that multi-generational living provides, but an ADU would provide more privacy and independence to my parents than they currently have.

However, as the proposed ordinance stands, we will not be able to build a garage apartment. Whether intentional or a fluke of historical zoning, a few streets including ours are zoned RS-2 and so would be excluded while other newer construction around us has been zoned RS-3. I’m speaking today to give you one example of why that exclusion would be a mistake. We live in a 100-year-old house and are committed to keeping its historical look. But around us, bungalow after bungalow has been torn down and replaced by large footprint houses. By excluding RS-2, this continues to encourage the demolition of the smaller home to be replaced with a larger square footage unit. By building a garage apartment instead, we keep the historical look of our house, but simply expand our footprint off the alley.

And these twin goals of expanding affordable housing and encouraging multi-generational living were goals that we supported before the outbreak of COVID. But now we’ve gone from two people (my parents) home during the day with freedom and quiet, we now have two working parents, a 3rd grader and a 7th grader enrolled in CPS’ remote learning and two helpful grandparents, all home fighting for space and quiet. While I realize it is a privilege to be able to explore this option, requiring a special use permit — with its additional cost and hassle without a guarantee of approval — will likely put that option out of reach. Please pass the ADU ordinance quickly, but please consider the inclusion of RS-1 and RS-2 units in it.

Thank you


Commentary: I want an ADU, but the RS-2 exclusion would prevent me from building one was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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