October 17, 2019

‘Master Planned Development’ Guidelines Would Enhance Zoning Procedures for City’s Largest Development Sites

Public invited to submit comments, suggestions for 30 days

Improved review and approval procedures for Chicago’s largest construction projects would require developers to co-host additional community meetings, provide the public with more project information, and make appropriate changes based on neighborhood feedback, according to draft guidelines proposed to the Chicago Plan Commission today by the Department of Planning and Development (DPD).

“The draft guidelines provide more opportunities for community stakeholders to understand and influence how very large development projects may affect their neighborhoods,” said Plan Commission Chair Teresa Cordova, who directed DPD staff to develop the enhanced procedures earlier this fall.

The proposed requirements would supplement existing protocols for Planned Development (PD) projects, which is a special zoning designation that enables multiple City departments to comprehensively assess design, density, layout, parking, open spaces and related issues before they are formally considered for approval. All PDs are reviewed by the Chicago Plan Commission prior to their consideration by City Council’s Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards.

The proposed “Master Planned Development” designation would apply to projects known colloquially as “mega projects.” The Master PD designation and associated procedures would be required for private projects that exceed 20 acres, 4 million square feet of space or 4,000 dwelling units, and for public projects that exceed 10 acres, 2.5 million square feet or 2,500 dwelling units.

Current thresholds that trigger typical PDs — two acres, 75,000 square feet of space or 30 dwelling units — would continue to apply.

The improved review and approval procedures would require Master PD developers to participate in a variety of internal and external zoning meetings including:

  • A City-initiated community meeting prior to a Master PD application being filed with City Council
  • An internal meeting with City staff to review proposed changes pursuant to community input
  • A City-initiated community meeting to present any changes to the initial proposal
  • And one or more community follow-up meetings after a Master PD application is filed with City Council, pending substantive changes to a project’s size, scope or layout

Currently, all PDs are required to have one public meeting, which can be accomplished through a project’s presentation to Plan Commission, though many aldermen and developers host one or more additional meetings at their own discretion. Current procedures do not require developers to meet with zoning staff either before or after a PD application is filed.

Additional new requirements would include transparency enhancements that standardize how Master PD applications and presentations are made available online; new rules that formalize developers’ consideration and responses to public input; and a variety of modernized submission forms that make anticipated traffic, parking, public transit, school, and economic impacts available for public scrutiny.

A draft of the guidelines is available on the Plan Commission's web site. DPD will accept public comments through Monday, Nov. 18. All comments should be emailed to DPD@cityofchicago.org.

DPD staff will incorporate comments from the public, Plan Commission members, and elected officials into finalized guidelines that could be adopted by Plan Commission later this year.

Potential development locations that could be subject to the new procedures include the nearly 100-acre Michael Reese hospital site in Bronzeville, the 450-acre USX site in South Chicago, and an approximately 35-acre site adjacent to Solider Field on the Near South Side. 

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