Chicago Cityscape's '1909' newsletter

You can now use Chicago Cityscape to browse and locate property transactions in Cook County. Currently we have all of the transactions that took place in 2017-2018; we’ll add more after we gather feedback from our users on how they want to see and use the data.

There were 86 properties transacted near the CTA’s Chicago Blue Line station in 2018.

Property transactions are subject to a Real Estate Transfer Tax, known as “stamp duty” in other places. The State of Illinois and each county gets a cut of the RETT, as well as Chicago and the Chicago Transit Authority for transactions that take place here. When it’s paid, Cook County takes a note and sends the data on to the Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR), which updates a public dataset each quarter.

The “PTAX” data, as IDOR calls it, tells who sold what to whom and for how much. There were 118,026 declared property transactions in Cook County last year — not all of them were “arm’s length”, though.

An arm’s length transaction is one between two parties that don’t know each other. Many of the transactions are between family members and trusts, which aren’t arm’s length — these kinds of transactions also don’t have a value, and thus no money is exchanged and no RETT is collected.

The priciest transaction was Sterling Bay, in a joint venture with Wanxiang Real Estate Group, purchasing One and Two Prudential Plazas for $680 million from 601W [1]. The sale was widely reported in the media.

Look up an address to see nearby property transactions.

4 ways to find transactions

  1. Look up an address or PIN on Address Snapshot and scroll down until you see “Property Sales” — then click “Load property sales”.
  2. Browse the master table — search for buyer and seller names
  3. Property Finder: Move the map around the county to see what was sold and where
  4. Show all property transactions in a given Place — Try Woodlawn, for example, and scroll down to “Property Sales”; you could also choose a community area, Ward, ZIP code, or Cook County commissioner district
A map of some of the priciest property transactions in Woodlawn.

[1] Other companies were involved in the purchase and sale of the two buildings, which CoStar lists.


See who bought which properties in Cook County last year was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Thursday, February 14, 2019

Lincoln Yards: Alternatives to using TIF

This is the final article in a series about the Lincoln Yards proposal, which also addresses issues surrounding any large-scale development in Chicago. The first challenged the idea that bigger parks are better; the second found that the proposal isn’t as dense as “five Sears Towers”; the third called for more ambitious transportation infrastructure to support accessing jobs at Lincoln Yards.

In order to establish a new development with dozens of new buildings, 8,250 new residents, and 24,000 new jobs, a lot of transportation infrastructure will need to be modified and added to Lincoln Yards and its immediate area.

A rendering provided by Sterling Bay, the Lincoln Yards developer, which shows a rebuilt and relocated Clybourn Metra station, along with an extension of the 606. Rendering by SOM.

And transportation infrastructure is costly. Proposals to use up to $900 million in TIF funds to build new streets and new bridges around the Lincoln Yards development site have spurred an ongoing debate about who should pay for this. (It’s not yet clear what each new piece of infrastructure would cost and who it benefits.)

Currently, zoning committee chair Alder. James Cappleman (46th Ward) has delayed approving the LY project on account that it doesn’t provide enough affordable housing on site.

Next week, the Community Development Commission (CDC) will vote on Tuesday, February 19, whether to adopt a TIF district around the Lincoln Yards site.

Chicagoans have been debating Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts for what feels like more than a decade now. With some arguing that we should end TIFs, and use the undiverted property tax revenue to invest in schools, mental health facilities, and pay down pension debt.

In light of the controversy around how TIF funds were moved around between McPier entities, you would think that officials would have become averse to proposing new TIF districts (other than the Transit TIFs which protect revenue for city and county services), that are structured to specifically benefit a very small part of the city. Yet two new TIF districts are being proposed, all designed specifically to build infrastructure that would support multi-billion dollar private developments.

The CDC approved one of those two TIF districts last week, at Related Midwest’s 62-acre site at Roosevelt Road and Clark Street. The TIF will pay to shift Metra tracks, build a new subway station, and construct new roads. City Council must still approve it.

That being said, TIF is not the bogeyman that it has been portrayed as. It can be an extremely beneficial financing mechanism in areas that are actually blighted (one of the conditions for establishing a TIF). However, it has been used far too liberally within the City of Chicago, and we need to exercise some of the other tools in our toolbox.

I’ve gathered four different infrastructure financing programs that could be utilized to achieve citywide goals, rather than site-specific goals.

Transit Facility Improvement Areas (aka TFIA)

Locally known as the “Transit TIFs”

A Transit TIF is a modification of TIFs. Instead of 100 percent of the increase in property tax revenues from an area being diverted away from Chicago and county agencies into the fund, a smaller portion is. First, the Chicago Public Schools receives its share of the increase as if the district didn’t exist. Then, only 80 percent of the remaining property tax increase goes towards funding the identified transportation improvement. The rest continues on to regular city budget obligations from parks to the fire department pension. A Transit TIF is being used to fund the Red Purple Modernization (RPM) project.

A similar Transit TIF could have been used to finance the new Red Line station in the 78 development, but Springfield would have to amend the legislation to allow a Transit TIF in Lincoln Yards. (Transit TIFs can only be adopted for specific projects outlined in state law.)

A Transit TIF on the Lincoln Yards site would be able to pay for fixed transportation infrastructure (streets and bridges), an updated and relocated Metra station, as well as a the proposed but nebulous “transitway” between the site and downtown Chicago. Both regular and Transit TIFs cannot pay for transit operations — the Transit TIF couldn’t pay additional bus service. [1]

Build-Lease-Transfer (BLT)

Under this funding scheme, private developers would build new transit stations on their property (and on their own dime) and CTA, Metra, or Pace would lease the stations until they were paid for, at which point the title would be transferred to the transit agency. New transit stations account for a majority of the cost increases in subway construction and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) construction in the country compared to the rest of the world. Thus, if private companies were in charge of building these stations they might be able to keep costs down by incorporating them into their development’s construction.

It shouldn’t be a hard case to convince developers to build new transit centers from their own funds. Integrating or co-locating stations and commercial uses is widely done throughout Europe and Asia, to the benefit of both the developer and transit riders. This would mean that the only costs which would need to be covered by a Transit TIF would be the right of way, tunnels, embankments, or elevated structures between the stations.

This could be done for any type of station for Metra and bus transit centers that are built as part of mixed use developments. Without the stops for passengers to get on or off, or change lines, the developments would not be feasible, and without the developments there would not be demand to justify building the station in the first place.

Transportation Infrastructure & Finance Innovation Act (TIFIA) Loans

TIFIA loans are issued by the federal government at reduced interest rates in order to finance projects with a clear public good that cannot be funded locally but can attract co-investment. They have been used locally for the 95th Street station reconstruction, the Blue Line improvements, as well as the new Consolidated Joint Use Facility at O’Hare (for buses, rental cars, and remote parking).

These types of loans were used for the local match for the Red Purple Modernization project (and backed by the revenue from the Transit TIF) and could be similarly used for providing a local match for any other project that pursues federal funding. Likewise, the use of TIFIA in the redevelopment of Denver Union Station and its surrounding environs would be an ideal model for financing reconstructed Metra stations. The loans could be issued to the developer for them to rebuild these stations while backing the debt with a portion of the rent from the surrounding development.

The Chicago Riverwalk received a TIFIA loan, and they very well could be utilized in a similar manner to extend the 606 and expand the Clybourn Metra Station if there were publicly-owned retail (just like City Winery and Tiny Tapp on the Riverwalk) and development rights whose profits could be used to pay back the loan.

General Obligation Bonds (GOB)

These are “normal” city bonds used for building infrastructure across the city. The City of Chicago sells GOBs to investors to pay for a variety of costs up front. They’re paid back to the bond holders when the bonds mature.

The more that we can disconnect road projects from eating up TIF funds the better. Otherwise we are just stealing money from other city departments to pay for something that prioritizes those wealthy enough to own and operate a car in the city.

This is similarly true if the city wanted to build new river crossings on the north side to connect Throop to Southport or Armitage to Mclean. The river crossings will serve a public good, even if they were only built to connect the current street layout. If Sterling Bay, Farpoint, Related Midwest, or any other developer wants to add new streets on their property or relocate any roads on their property, they are required to coordinate those changes with the city, but the city should not be funding those street changes even with a TIF. The city should only be managing their permitting so that they meet the Chicago Department of Transportation’s stated Complete Streets & Vision Zero standards.

Rethinking our priorities

Beyond what we already have at our disposal in terms of financing mechanisms, we have the bigger questions that are being debated on a statewide level. Both our regional planning organizations — Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and the Regional Transit Authority — and our regional transportation advocacy organizations — Active Transportation Alliance and the Metropolitan Planning Council — understand that we have a backlog of infrastructure improvements to public transit and non-motorized transportation that are currently unfunded. If we keep relying solely on TIF districts to fund local projects, then the parts of town that are most attractive to developer interest will see a wide range of funded projects.

Meanwhile, in the other parts of town that suffer from a history of disinvestment, revenue from property taxes won’t rise as fast, and subsequently will get far fewer funded improvement projects. All of which is further compounded by the fact that diverting all of the additional revenues that come from property value increases in the TIF district starves out other city services that could be strengthened if revenue increased for use by the entire city.

If we created dedicated revenue streams at the city, regional, and state level then we could equitably invest in improvements across the entire city and it might be attractive for companies to locate their shiny new office buildings south of Cermak Road since it is the same distance from the center of the Loop as North Avenue, the south end of Lincoln Yards.

There are many other cities and regions that have passed referendums funding transit infrastructure over the past decade. There’s no reason that we shouldn’t be pushing for the same. When it comes to the state, we just need a transportation bill for the first time in a decade.

Notes

[1] In order for any future Transit TIFs to work to their best ability, the existing TIFs would need to be amended to not include the areas that will benefit from the new connections. Otherwise more than ⅓ of the potential new Transit Facility Improvement Areas that I mapped out (on the left) will be diverted via other existing TIFs that don’t reserve a portion of the property tax increase for normal budget obligations (in purple). The reason that the Red Purple Modernization Project Transit TIF was not interrupted by many existing TIFs is because so many were due to expire just as the Transit TIF was instituted.

Similar issues about pre-existing TIFs apply for the 130th Street Red Line South Extension if it were to include a Transit TIF district. (on the right)

Which begs the question. Do you use money from existing TIF districts to fund stations in those TIF districts, and let the remaining Transit TIF area fund the track work that connects those stations? Would splitting the financing for different aspects of transit construction make sense since different types of infrastructure generate different types of value?

  • Right-of-Way Improvements don’t only generate an increase the value in the immediate are if it increases the frequency of service or capacity on an another portion of the line that eventually will run along it.
  • Stations concentrate even more value around them, not just because it is convenient to live near a station. Proximity is also valuable to retailers, employers, and nearby attractions like a stadium, university, or concert venue.
  • Maintenance Yards do not increase the value around them, but they can increase the value of the areas served by the vehicles that originate from the yard if investments in them increase the capacity and frequency of the service on that line.

Lincoln Yards: Alternatives to using TIF was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


The Lincoln Yards proposal is a major redevelopment of industrial land that had few workers on such a large site, relatively little car traffic, and nobody living nearby. That will all change as six thousand new residences and tens of thousands of new jobs are planned to land on the site and nearby. The issue is that there isn’t enough transportation infrastructure to get them there.

My previous article identified small areas in Chicago that have a similar density, of both residents and jobs, to the Lincoln Yards and the surrounding area. We showed that the proposal isn’t that dense, and that much of Chicago’s North Side was denser.

Needs more transit

A big difference, however, is that every one of those comparison areas has more transit service than currently serves the Lincoln Yards and surrounding area. (Our “study area” is bounded by Webster, Clybourn, North, and the Kennedy Expressway.)

Current CTA and Metra passenger capacity during rush hour in three different areas (calculated using public provided schedules and estimated rolling stock capacity) show the need for more transit in Lincoln Yards to match what’s available in the most comparable jobs+population area of “West River North”.

Those comparable areas also have more transit service than the study area will have even if a proposed new transitway ends up carrying as many passengers as the Orange Line BRT in Los Angeles, the highest-performing bus transitway in the United States [1]. The proposed water taxi stops and the transitway are both downtown-centric, and will not measurably improve access to the site from a majority of the city in a way similar to the Loop-adjacent areas identified in the last article.

Transit nerds should also open and read the footnotes. There is a much larger discussion about specific transit alternatives and routes that could be created to integrate the Lincoln Yards and environs into the CTA ‘L’ network.

The City of Chicago proposed a “transitway” from Lincoln Yards and Goose Island to downtown. It probably won’t be enough. North Branch Framework Plan

If investments were made to increase the amount of service from across the region to the Lincoln Yards site, it would lessen the impact of housing cost increases on the surrounding neighborhoods [2], while simultaneously bringing residents closer to new amenities.

The size or scope of a development in a low-density area adjacent to higher density areas only becomes problematic when the transportation infrastructure improvements don’t match the scale of development that is being proposed.

An earlier version of the Lincoln Yards proposal placed a stadium on the south half of the development, to which the Chicago Department of Transportation and 2nd Ward Alder. Hopkins ascribed much of the traffic demand.

Now that the stadium has been eliminated, however, the peak demand for transportation to and from the site doesn’t change by much. Why? The stadium’s area was replaced with 1,500 more residences [3]. What changed is how and when people make trips into and out of Lincoln Yards. The additional units could encourage more car ownership — and thus more traffic — among Lincoln Yards residents, since the 6,158 proposed parking spaces will more than double the garage parking within 1/4 mile of the study area [4].

An easy place to store a car overnight discourages a commuter from using a bus — especially when the only bus improvements being made are to and from downtown and not to any other job centers.

The garage could create an awful situation: One commuter drives out of the garage in the morning to get to work elsewhere, while another commute drives into the garage in the morning to work at Lincoln Yards [5]. While it’s great for the garage operator to have a full garage 24 hours a day, it sucks for the environment, shoppers, walkers, and bicyclists.

These commute patterns will make the entire development more car dependent, especially since the number of vehicular crossings of the river in the area will be quadrupling.

More roads = more traffic

Alder. Hopkins (2nd Ward) and other officials have claimed that the new bridges and new streets (creating a new increase in road capacity)will “reduce congestion”. This is simply false due to the fundamental law of traffic congestion, that any new road capacity will be filled with equivalent car capacity within a few years.

These streets will see induced demand from the new or expanded bridges over the Chicago River.

These new river crossings will have knock on effects in a far wider area than if no new road capacity was being added and the developer and their new tenants aggressively shifted as many new trips as possible to public transit. Privately-operated, infrequent, low capacity, used only by office workers during rush hour, shuttles are not a viable solution to the transportation needs of Lincoln Yards. The only way that this new network of vehicular river crossings will not increase the congestion that neighbors are complaining about is if the city addresses the morphing travel demands of the city in a holistic manner that is heavily bike and transit focused.

Supporting a shift to sustainable modes of transportation will require improvements that are done in phases that match the increasing demands created by the upcoming phases of industrial redevelopment. It cannot focus solely on the North Branch Corridor, solely on trips to and from downtown, or solely on improvements to one mode of travel.

CTA produced this map that shows where and how they’re constrained in adding more capacity.

Fortunately, the Lincoln Yards “Planned Development” document requires Sterling Bay to conduct new traffic studies and design a set of new transportation improvements be approved by the Chicago Department of Transportation before any subsequent phase is completed [6].

Chicagoans need to be the ones pushing to make sure that those phases of improvements are not primarily car centric, and that they contribute to citywide public transit connectivity and capacity increases.

Think beyond the transitway

The Active Transportation Alliance has already taken the first step, but we need a comprehensive plan that resolves deficiencies in CTA’s network of bus and ‘L’ routes. District plans like the North Branch Framework Plan and the Central Area Plan are necessary, but they don’t knit together regional solutions to the shifting commute patterns that they help facilitate [7].

The Loop elevated — where five lines operate — is the biggest primary constraint of the CTA’s train capacity. This was identified in the 2017 CTA System-Wide Rail Capacity Study and it remains unaddressed — this means that the branches that serve the Loop elevated can no longer add additional trains during rush hour. Up until 1964, this issue was dealt with by additional rush hour trains that terminated at stub stations just outside of the physical Loop. The former Chicago Department of Subways and Superhighways addressed these constraints by opening the Dearborn and State Street subways, which allowed riders headed to points on the opposite side of downtown to bypass the constrained Loop elevated.[8]

Other cities in North America are dealing with similar issues and addressed capacity constraints on a central “trunk”, similar to the Loop elevated, by building a relief line that added passenger capacity in the central. Look to the Los Angeles’ Regional Connector, San Francisco’s Central Subway, and Dallas’s D2 Subway. These are more like when Chicago built the Dearborn and State Street subways, but they show that increased transit use requires increased capacity on outer branch lines.

(left) Los Angeles’ Regional Connector; (center) San Francisco’s Central Subway; (right) Dallas’s D2 Subway

The first proposal that comes to mind is the Circle Line. Yes, the Circle Line would provide connections between places that are outside the Loop. However, if it actually operated as a circle, it would worsen frequency on the outer branches of the Red Line [9].

Ten years ago, the CTA crafted some ideas for a north-south train route.

Instead, it is important to look at this slide from the 2009 Circle Line Alternatives Analysis Study. Instead of running trains through the most constrained portion of the system, the CTA considered running trains directly through the area that is currently seeing so much growth.

It would have been great to have continued developing those concepts so that we would be shovel ready today with a project to address the new jobs that are outside of downtown, but the bright side is that we can envision a route that serves multiple purposes [10].

The chart shows that transit service could increase if we were aggressive about expanding transit (via existing and new routes) in tandem with building new office towers. See footnote 11.

Long term, a north-south route on the near west side would serve the 50,000 jobs that might be generated in the North Branch Corridor (Lincoln Yards + environs) better than a proposed “transitway” alone between Lincoln Yards and the Loop.

We’ve reorganized the ‘L’ network twice before: Connecting the lines with a consolidated Loop in 1897, and adding cross city capacity via the subways in the 1940s. Now is the time to take advantage of the money and momentum of large redevelopment projects — including The 78 and the Burnham Lakefront [11] — to reorganize our transit system for a future of citywide growth.


Lincoln Yards: An ambitious redevelopment needs ambitious transit additions to match was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


The “re-legalize coach houses” petition that was launched three weeks ago (including in Spanish) has 1,092 signers as of this writing. Everyone who signed it was invited to leave a message or tell a story about why they support the idea, or why they want coach houses to become legal again in Chicago.

All of these quotations were left by signers or people who sent in their story before the petition was created. Many of the reasons fit in multiple categories.

Family housing options

“I have a daughter with a significant developmental delay. I would like her to be able to live somewhat independently in a coach house behind my house.”

“As a middle class family, renovating this space is far more affordable than renovating the first two floors of our home. We have family in Brazil and New Zealand who come to stay with us for extended periods, I live with Stage Four cancer, and at some point , we will need a live-in care giver for me or for our children (3 and 5). A granny flat would also allow for additional rental income in the future, which with my health situation, could ensure our ability to keep our home AND offer another individual an affordable place to live in our quickly gentrifying neighborhood.”

“Homeowners can enjoy the benefit of having children/parents/friends/caretakers/students living on their land and sharing costs.”

“Extra income and increasing housing options in the neighborhood. We may use it if our parents move in when they get older.”

“Our family would be interested in a design build for a coach house in the near future if this passes. This change also provides a solid retirement housing option for empty nesters moving to the city from the suburbs with income-generating units in the front and a owner-occupied area in the rear.”

“Although we have loved having my parents in the same town (and my kids have enjoyed having their grandparents nearby), they would appreciate the independence that would come from having separate space in a coach house. It would be a great way for us to continue to have the benefits of multi-generational living (after school childcare and communal meals), but also providing all of us more privacy and freedom.”

“We want my parents to age-in-place. They live in the primary residence on their single-family zoned lot. We would like to build a two-story coach house to replace their garage.”

“I can’t right now — but my longterm goal is to purchase a property in Chicago, and build an ADU for my parents and my fiancé’s parents to age in when they retire.”

Increase incomes

“Chicago needs policy to encourage continued affordable housing, and restrictive zoning is counterproductive to our city’s long-term economic well-being. In addition, as property taxes continue to increase, ADUs help homeowners afford the additional costs through supplemental income.”

“To provide more low-density housing in my neighborhood while also having the potential to improve my property and make additional income.”

Affordable housing

“When I moved back to Chicago after spending a year in Washington, DC, I rented a small room in a rear coach house in Bucktown for $300 per month. As an unemployed person seeking work, this was the most ideal arrangement I could be in while reentering the workforce and readjusting to life in Chicago.”

“I’ve seen the effects of large housing developments on rents and affordability on the most vulnerable members of our city. Chicago does not have a “housing crisis”; it has a housing affordability crisis — there’s lots of housing being built in Chicago; it’s just not being built for Chicagoans who are not being included in the past few years of development in our city. I strongly agree with the points made by the petition about adding soft density without radically changing the character of neighborhoods, the sustainable nature of these types of conversions, and the assertion that passing this ordinance will create opportunities for small businesses.”

“I own multiple properties and see how much demand there is for nice, smaller places with lower rent. It would also make two-flat more financially feasible for investors. Also, I just think coach houses are great and should be preserved and used as dwellings.”

“Chicago needs policy to encourage continued affordable housing, and restrictive zoning is counterproductive to our city’s long-term economic well-being. In addition, as property taxes continue to increase, ADUs help homeowners afford the additional costs through supplemental income.”

Maintaining neighborhood density

“As we think about the long term future of our building, and our need for more space as our families grow, we’ve thought about consolidating from 3 to 2 units, but really wanted to keep a rental unit. Not only for the income, but to keep the density of people in our neighborhood that we think makes it vibrant. If coach houses were re-legalized it would definitely be part of our future considerations.”

“To allow for more families and neighbors to enter our wonderful neighborhoods. And to fund the pensions.”

“Density it cities create efficiency. Affordability allows for sustainability. Sharing land with family, friends, co-workers, students and care takers allows shared benefits. I have worked on existing buildings in Chicago for years. This tradition already exists in our building stock, time to bring it back.”

Building preservation

“I want others to build them so that historic districts can add new apartments without losing the beautiful homes that make it an attractive place to raise a family. I would want to build a coach house behind the 2 flat I want to own some day, so that I can have 2 rental units that might want to use the garage. Since my fiancée & I have no interest in owning a car, but our tenants might. Otherwise the garage would be sorely underutilized.”

“Saving existing buildings and improving their comfort and efficiency. Also producing buildings off-site and delivering to site for installation and enjoyment.”

“It will deter tear-downs in favor of creatively maximizing the land foot print in a more unique and sustainable way.”

“A coach house is also a good way to preserve a century-old house. Many houses in our neighborhood have been torn down and replaced by larger-square footage house with smaller yards. A coach house would enable us to grow in place, adding additional living space while keeping a gorgeous old house in tact. A coach house at our location would help preserve historic housing, not distract from it.”


More reasons to support re-legalizing coach houses & ADUs in Chicago was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


But one aspect of the plan could still pose a problem

The Lincoln Yards plan, as with any large development, has attracted a lot of hyperbole about the proposal’s building heights and job and residential densities. One person claimed that the development would bring “5 Sears Towers” to the site, which doesn’t meaningfully explain anything about height or density. [1]

The Lincoln Yards development proposal isn’t out of the ordinary and will be hardly as population dense, as some are making it out to be. A lot of Chicago neighborhoods have a population density similar to or greater than what is being proposed, even in places that don’t have the the very visible high-rise areas along the lakefront north and south of downtown.

Click the map to see the full version. Map by Frank Kryzak

Focusing on proposed building heights in discussions about the job and population impacts of a development site is a distraction from the underlying transportation infrastructure deficiencies, relative to the full buildout proposal, that large redevelopment projects actually bring forth.

Frank Kryzak showed on The Chicago Flaneur how density can come in various forms and created this map of dwelling unit density across the city. This article will demonstrate that the population and jobs density of Lincoln Yards isn’t that unique in the City of Chicago.

Finding a precedent

The hyperbole extends to some project opponents claiming that 12,000 to 20,000 people [2] will live in the Lincoln Yards development. To clarify, currently 6,000 multifamily residential units are being proposed across the entire site, based on the average population per unit of multifamily housing in the area that would average out to about 8,250 new residents.

To compare Lincoln Yards to other Chicago neighborhoods, I created a study area. Since developments aren’t islands, but an area that adjoins places developed by scores of other people, we must consider boundaries beyond the area that a single developer controls. Additionally, the study area needs to match statistical boundaries as much as possible [3].

Study Area in blue, Lincoln Yards site in grey, proposed parks in green

To measure how dense the Lincoln Yards development site would be at full projected build out, and to find comparable neighborhoods in Chicago, the study area (pictured above) [4] includes the surrounding blocks that will benefit from the infrastructure upgrades that are proposed in tandem with the planned development.

From left to right: Rendering of Triangle Square at Webster/Elston (Lamar Johnson Collaborative); 2701 N. Southport (GREC Architects); Proposed expansion of Webster Place (where the Regal Webster 11 movie theater is)

There are three other significant proposals currently under consideration by developers within these boundaries: Triangle Square (366 units), the adaptive reuse of 2071 N. Southport (56 units), and the Webster Place expansion (430 units estimated) that is in a preliminary development stage. If all of these projects were completed entirely as residential then that would add about 1,200 new residents.

Population density by census tract before Lincoln Yards and adjacent developments (Steven Vance; American Community Survey 5-year 2013–2017)

Add those three developments to the Lincoln Yards estimated residential population to the three proposals above to equal a density of ~38 residents per acre.

Pretty much everywhere on the North Side of Chicago is as dense or denser than the area around Lincoln Yards at full residential buildout.

Nearly a quarter of all of Chicago’s census tracts have a higher residential density than Lincoln Yards would have. [5]

Population density by census tract after Lincoln Yards and adjacent developments (Steven Vance; American Community Survey 5-year 2013–2017)

While residential density gets all the fanfare, a useful comparison should also consider the mixed-use nature of Lincoln Yards and other neighborhoods. These other areas have similar population densities, but average fewer than 15 jobs per acre, while the Lincoln Yards development is proposing ~435 jobs per acre on site [6]. If we add the proposed jobs to the existing jobs in the study area we end up ~29,900 (~107 jobs per acre).

Lincoln Yards jobs + existing jobs in the study area creates a jobs density similar to the mix of uses in 12 Census tracts in the City of Chicago that surround the Loop to the north, west, and east.

Contiguous area of Chicago with at least 35 residents per acre and at least 105 jobs per acre [7]

Those 12 tracts are entirely within the Central Business District, and all of them are served by two or more CTA stations inside or within 1/4 mile of their boundaries [8].

The part of Chicago that has the closest match of the Lincoln Yards study area’s job and population density [9] is an area roughly bounded by Division, Larrabee, the Chicago River, and Wells St (let’s call it “West River North”). It has ~31 residents per acre and ~106 jobs per acre. Within a 1/4 mile of this area are CTA stations serving every ‘L’ line (except for Yellow), and 10 bus routes.

“West River North”, the closest match to the jobs and population density of the Lincoln Yard study area

The projected number of jobs at the Lincoln Yards site is a more worrying scenario because there isn’t enough transit capacity to get people to and from the site.

For Lincoln Yards to support a similar density of jobs and population as “West River North”, then our discussion about transit improvements for the site needs to change dramatically.

There is enough existing capacity in existing transit service to carry people who will work in the first phase of office buildings, but not enough new transit infrastructure and service has been proposed for the long term once final build out is completed.

Stay tuned to next week’s article, which will make the case that the Lincoln Yards transit and transportation plan is insufficient.


The Lincoln Yards proposal isn’t that dense was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Update 1/28/19 17:42: 46th Ward Alder Cappleman has proposed removing the TOD bus route corridors from the 46th Ward. See below.

The same density bonus and parking reduction rules that apply to properties near CTA and Metra stations now apply to properties near selected bus routes. Chicago’s TOD ordinance (actually called Transit-Served Location) was amended last week to now include properties within 1/4 mile of bus route corridors like Ashland and Western Avenues, North Lake Shore Drive and Sheridan Road, and 39th, 55th, 63rd, 67–69th-71st, and 79th Streets, among others on the South Side.

Chicago Cityscape was updated the day after the ordinance was adopted to show a property’s proximity to these “TOD bus routes” when searching for addresses and Cook County PINs on our Address Snapshot functionality.

The TOD ordinance reduces the car parking minimum by 50 percent for new, expanded, and existing uses in B, C, D, and M zones, as of right. A further reduction can be taken by getting an approval through an additional process.

The TOD ordinance also offers density bonuses, as of right, for new, expanded, and existing residential and non-residential uses in -3 zoning districts (B2–3 and DR-3, for example).

The addition of selected bus route corridors to the Chicago TOD ordinance makes many more properties eligible for the density bonuses and car parking minimum reductions.

Adding selected bus route corridors to the TOD ordinance greatly expands the reach of the benefits: A grouping of properties with C1–3 and B3–3 zoning classifications are too far from the Indiana and 35th-Bronzeville-IIT Green Line stations, but they are within 1/4 mile of the #39 bus on Pershing Road.

This means that properties in this area don’t have to add new parking spaces if they add space or units to the buildings (for the most part), and that new buildings are required to have drastically less parking. And, because these zoning districts end in “dash 3”, the owners can build slightly more dwelling units, office space, or manufacturing space than those zoning districts normally allow.

The originally proposed ordinance, as submitted by the Mayor’s Office, would have extended the parking reduction rules to all RM districts. This would have been another game-changing part of the TOD ordinance, by allowing parking-light residential buildings in residential-only districts near high-frequency bus routes and CTA and Metra stations. This would have meant a return to traditional Chicago development, when courtyard-style apartment buildings were built with little to no parking.

Consider the Sheridan Road bus corridor through Rogers Park, which has dozens of these apartment buildings that could not be built like that today because today’s zoning code requires that they build one car parking space per unit. A 40-unit apartment building would have to have 40 car parking spaces — next to a high-frequency bus corridor — greatly increasing its cost and bulk.

The Chicago planning department said in its press release on January 23, that “since January 2016, more than 144 TODs containing approximately 24,419 residential units have been approved either as Planned Developments, Type 1 zoning amendments or by the Zoning Board of Appeals.”

A significant portion of those units would likely not have been built if not for the TOD ordinance. The TOD ordinance allows a “free” (as of right) increase in FAR from 3.0 to 3.5 (meaning more units are allowed) and reduces the car parking minimum (which reduces the bulk and cost of the building).

View a complete map of the bus route corridors on Chicago Cityscape, and a complete list of the CTA bus routes on MAP Strategies.

P.S. A lesser known rule is when properties are on a zoning designated “Pedestrian Street”, properties can be up to 1/2 mile away from CTA and Metra stations and the selected bus route corridors and get eligibility.

Chicago Cityscape’s vast database shows the location of all Pedestrian Streets, including the six that were added or extended last year. Look up an Address Snapshot, and in the TOD status section, the presence of a nearby Pedestrian Street will be noted.

Update: Not every alder supports the TOD amendment

Here are before/after maps (current/proposed) of the TOD eligibility area.

46th Ward Alder James Cappleman said in his newsletter today that he intends to have the TOD bus route corridors in the 46th Ward removed from the list (routes 135 and 146, which ply Inner Lake Shore Drive, Lawrence, Marine Drive, and Sheridan Road).

Currently, a majority of the ward is in a TOD area, but the removal of the bus route corridors would mean a majority of the ward is no longer in a TOD area.

What could this mean? If the bus corridors are removed from the 46th Ward, any new housing developments in those parts of the 46th Ward will be required to have at least one car parking space per dwelling unit, which could increase traffic in the neighborhood and increase the price of housing.

33rd Ward Alder Deb Mell voted against approving the ordinance (SO2018-9304) at the City Council meeting on 1/23/19.


Chicago’s TOD ordinance now applies to areas around certain bus routes was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Take a trip from Lincoln Park to Brighton Park

There are several neighborhoods in Chicago that are thirsty for park space. Wouldn’t it be great if the energy for more publicly-owned park space in Lincoln Park and Bucktown could be shared across Chicago?

Proponents of new park space along the Chicago River between North Ave. and Cortland St. are trying to close a gap where new park space is least needed — even considering that 7,000 people may move in over the next decade or two.

Jake Peters is Chicago born and raised, a architect & urban designer who studied urban design, transportation, and housing issues at McGill University the University of Cincinnati.

Sterling Bay, a local property developer, has proposed a project called Lincoln Yards, that would redevelop land left vacant by the former Finkl steel factory. The company has proposed nine residential buildings that would have approximately 6,000 apartments and condos.

Part of the proposal is a series of small parks and publicly-accessible plaza and plaza-like spaces. Two parks south and north of the river, each about 6.2 acres. Combined they equal roughly the size of Kilbourn Park in the Irving Park community area.

Current Lincoln Yards Landscaping Site Plan (via Lincoln Yards website)

The questions about parks during the Lincoln Yards public meetings, and the ensuing media coverage, have been about whether the proposed park is large enough.

Park size is a common way that park projects are discussed, including with the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) where lost acreage is a point of contention. We talk about park deserts in a way that seems to revolve around every park having to be as large as possible in order to quench a thirst for park space that is often measured in acres per resident.

How we talk about access to parks too often revolves around park space per person, which treats it as a commodity to be supplied and consumed, rather than how accessible of an amenity it is to each person.

The arguments about the acreage of Sterling Bay’s park proposal in comparision to the North Branch Park & Nature Preserve are not very appropriate given how they have been used to make a case that Lincoln Park is starved for recreation space. Which might seem to be true to neighbors, but is not true when compared to the many other community areas that have fewer parks, lower proximity to parks, and fewer of the neighborhood amenities or economic opportunities that Lincoln Park has.

Research from the National Recreation and Park Association shows that living near parks, and the kinds of facilities offered at nearby parks, are more important than amount of park space when it comes to equitable distribution of park resources (equity in this case means making improvements to park access that right historical wrongs that have disproportionately affected disadvantaged or underresourced communities).

Park advocates used to think in terms of number of acres per 1,000 residents, but that is starting to change into measuring access in terms of maximum distance to a park and certain types of facilities. For example, living within a half mile of three playlots provides fewer recreational opportunities than being within a half mile of a trail, a playground, and a ball field.

The green shaded areas are those residential blocks that are within half a mile of a park.

In terms of proximity, the Lincoln Park and Bucktown neighborhoods surrounding the Lincoln Yards site are completely covered by at least one park within a half mile of every residential area (shaded in green). These parks include both active (pools, playgrounds, fieldhouses, courts, playing fields, trails, and dog parks) and passive (gardens, lawns, tree groves, wetlands, overlooks, etc.). The only areas without good park proximity are the resident-free areas between the river and the highway.

The black lines delineate where Sterling Bay has proposed parks in the Lincoln Yards development.

The location of the parks proposed by Sterling Bay only moderately improves proximity, even after the recently announced plan eliminated 2.5 acres of plazas in order to consolidate park space. This is because the parks are located at the center of their proposed development, but they greatly would improve the variety of amenities that are within a half mile of nearby residents.

The black lines delineate the third-party proposed North Branch Park & Nature Preserve, that is outside of the land owned by Sterling Bay.

The proposed North Branch Park & Nature Preserve, on the outside of the Lincoln Yards property, that is being pushed by community groups would do an even better job at reducing these gaps, but that is mainly because it relies on using General Iron’s property that extends all the way south to North Avenue. Where the existing pedestrian bridge on Cherry Avenue — which crosses the river from North Avenue to Goose Island — and a new one proposed by Sterling Bay, would combine to extend access to the park much further south.

If a goal is to eliminate all of the gaps in proximity that exist along the North Branch Corridor, then it will take more than one riverfront park.

It would make sense for a comprehensive riverfront park plan to include a park on the land that the city acquired along the river next to the new alignment of Elston at Fullerton, as well as one in tandem with the bridge that R2, another property developer active in the Goose Island area, has proposed along the old Ogden Avenue right-of-way on the south side of Goose Island. To address issues of park access in any part of town it will require comprehensive planning that thinks beyond the boundaries of a given developer’s properties, which will need to be led by city and Park District planners, not by private entities.

City owned land could be used to create a series of riverfront parks (green) to complement the parks proposed by developers (blue), in order to eliminate the gaps in park access. This could encourage adjacent developers to add to the city parks as the public space set asides for their developments.

Comprehensive planning for new parks should be viewed with an even wider lens to look at park access up and down the city. The Friends of the Parks released a report this month that concluded that, on the North Side, the city and Park District only needs to maintain park proximity as new residential projects are built.

Elsewhere, improving facilities and programming on the South and West Sides — where private community groups aren’t able to raise millions of dollars for upgraded facilities — should be prioritized.

Perhaps the new riverfront park be provided primarily as passive park space because even in the Park District’s response to the Friends of the Parks report they highlight that new parks like La Villita in Little Village were built to address an inequity in programmed park space. It seems that adding more in a wealthy part of the city would only further widen this gap.

It is true that North Side parks can be congested due to high demand from users willing to pay for the use of park space in the form of league dues, but that shows that there are opportunities to privately fund new facilities to meet these demands.

In some ways the relocated Chicago Park District headquarters and new park at Western Avenue and 48th Street is a great example of where new amenities are actually needed. That project will offer fewer than 16 acres of park space compared with the 24 acres of contiguous park space that was proposed by community groups for the North Branch Reserve Park, but it will have programming that can engage with headquarters’ onsite staff experts in a way that no other park in the city has.

Site plan of the new Chicago Park District Headquarters and park in Brighton Park (via Chicago Park District)

Even here though, the project doesn’t actually increase the amount of neighborhoods in this part of town that are within a half mile of a park, and it occupies a prime site for housing adjacent to the CTA Orange Line Western Station.

We’re having a worthy discussion about inequity in Transit-Oriented Development locations, yet aren’t using an ideal TOD site on the Southwest Side for affordable or public housing. Similar to the combination library+senior housing developments, we could build a combination Park District headquarters +fieldhouse + transit-adjacent family housing development fronting on Western (on the site of the proposed parking lot), while maintaining a 15-acre park in the area west of Artesian Avenue.

This type of combined park+affordable housing project is currently being proposed for the former Magid glove factory at the end of the 606.

El Zocalo (via Cullen J Davis Development LLC)

Colocating multiple uses would have numerous benefits and could be done in partnership with the Back of the Yards Development Corporation which built the El Zocalo Apartments, a six-story project nearby on 47th Street.

The CPD HQ+park adds much-needed facilities. Residents in the southeast corner of Brighton Park would be closer to sports fields than they had been before, but all of these areas were already within a half mile of a park, including Oakley Park that’s two blocks away but doesn’t have a fieldhouse for its field.

The southwest corner of Brighton Park will still have virtually no park space (there is no park west of Whipple).

Furthermore, the eastern side of Brighton Park is not very far away from McKinley and Gage Parks, which are both larger than the proposed park. The CPD HQ+park project is a great addition in the neighborhood, but the park component will not increase proximity for the people who live in portions of Brighton Park that are furthest from an existing neighborhood park.

To fully address where the distance from a park is the greatest in the community, three new pocket parks could be built focusing on different facilities that are lacking as well as increasing park proximity:

  • A new park and plaza with a stage could fill in the empty lot near Sacramento/Archer that disrupts an otherwise vibrant stretch of restaurants and stores. This could be acquired by the city in exchange for a city-owned lot at Troy/44th, and could serve as an anchor for the commercial corridor & a site for neighborhood festivals.
  • According to the City Owned Land Inventory Map, the city owns the property on which strip mall sits on Kedzie south of 47th. A new field could be built on the western half of that site along with a new affordable housing development fronting on Kedzie, one block away from the Orange Line station. Which would add another Orange Line adjacent TOD, along with closing the largest portion of the gap in park proximity south of Archer.
  • Since there are no city-owned properties, or large vacant lots in the area bounded by Christiana, Drake, Archer, and 43rd, it would be a good use of public funds to acquire one or two lots in this area and build a small new park or playlot so that families have a facility that doesn’t require walking nearly a mile.

All three proposals — Lincoln Yards’ on-site parks, the North Branch Reserve Park & the Park District HQ — share the idea that new park acres are a net positive, even though none of them will be located in such a way to best address park access holistically in either part of town.

There have been successes in improving equity in park space, facilities & programming in recent years (i.e. Big Marsh, Gately Park Indoor Track & Field Facility, proposed Englewood Trail, and lakefront access improvements on the South Side). Even the 606 addressed a missing amenity on a portion of the West Side (although displacement issues have lessened its impact in terms of equity).

Yet there are still places across this city that need better park facilities. Those areas will only fall further behind if the only new parks are huge signature projects that make headlines and are driven by the availability of one site. Chicago has the ability with the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund (NOF) and existing TIF districts to right these wrongs in connected ways rather than one-off projects. That requires more robust planning ahead rather than reacting to proposals presented by individual stakeholders.


Let’s talk about neighborhoods that don’t have enough parks was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Thursday, January 17, 2019

Indicate your support for coach houses

Various rear houses across Chicago by Gabriel X. Michael.

Our petition has been posted! The petition is for residents, homeowners, architects, and affordable housing advocates to show their support for re-legalizing coach houses, rear houses, and newly legalizing “Accessory Dwelling Units” (a.k.a. flats in the garden, basement, or attic units).

You can sign the English version or firma la versión en español.

Accessory dwelling units have a “quintuple bottom line”:

  • Increase the supply of affordable housing, and can act as a stepping stone for new residents before they move to a larger apartment or buy a property of their own
  • Generate income for homeowners (this could also happen now with minor adjustments to the zoning map so people can build out basement units)
  • Support aging in place — ADUs and Junior ADUs give families flexibility to share property and living spaces with extended family members
  • Create new work for small and local architects and contractors
  • Boost local business support by restoring a neighborhood’s historical density

Read our past coverage of coach houses:


Indicate your support for coach houses was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


There’s a lot of talk about Opportunity Zones in Chicago, but the first acquisition or redevelopment of a local property in an OZ by a Qualified Opportunity Fund remains to be seen. Opportunity Zones are lower-income areas in all 50 states, and all of Puerto Rico, where investors can reinvest capital gains and reduce their tax liability. The idea is to spur new investment in property development (capital gains can also be invested in businesses located in OZs).

Chicago Cityscape is at the forefront of quality data for Opportunity Zones investors and property owners interested in Cook County, and our newest map makes it even easier to find, investigate, and analyze properties in OZs.

Property Finder, which we introduced last summer, is a collection of thematic maps to help brokers and investors find value add opportunities. For example, you can use one of the Property Finder maps to locate 2-flats that are in zoning districts that allow a third apartment to be added.

Screenshot of the Cook County properties + Opportunity Zones map.

The new Opportunity Zones Property Finder map shows all Cook County properties that are within a Cook County OZ. The map and data show the property classification, property tax liability, and ownership information. The data can be downloaded for use in Excel, pivot tables, and GIS. Plus, the map is filterable by property classification to find vacant land, for example.

What else can we help you find?

Reply, leave a response below, or contact us.


Find investable property in local Opportunity Zones was originally published in Chicago Cityscape on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


Explore new Chicago developments using our redesigned homepage

We’ve updated our homepage design based on our members’ feedback to put a map front and center. It makes sense that Chicago Cityscape visitors are first presented with an interactive map, given our dependence on using maps to explore neighborhood and property data.

Blue markers show you where there are new construction projects, while red markers and black dashed lines indicate upcoming public investments and major developments. Tell us what you think of the new homepage design. Reply to the newsletter or post a response on Medium.
  1. Using the new homepage design, members can immediately start exploring what’s being built in Chicago. Blue markers show new construction projects. Red markers and black dashed lines indicate upcoming public investments and developments — this is the first time we’ve shown these on a map.
  2. Our “Personal Place” drawing tools are also on the homepage, giving members quicker access to looking for data in custom boundaries. Click on the pentagon, square, and circle to draw a shape; this creates a “Personal Place” in which you can look at properties, business licenses, and more.
  3. Finally, a search bar on the map shows your address or building name search result instantly. Alternatively, right-click on the map to get an Address Snapshot.

If you’re ready to start using Chicago Cityscape to its full potential, sign up for a free trial of Cityscape Permits or Cityscape Pro. From today through the end of 2018, we’re offering 25 percent off new Cityscape Pro memberships with the coupon code 25ENDOF2018.


Explore Chicago development using our redesigned homepage 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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1909 was the year that Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett published the Plan of Chicago that forever changed the cityscape. The cityscape changes everyday and we track how and where on Chicago Cityscape.


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