Chicago Landscape Ordinance FAQ

What types of developments are required to install landscaping?

Parkway tree planting is required for:

  • The construction of any principal building
  • Additions to a building in excess of 1,500 square feet of floor area.
  • Repair or rehabilitation of a building if the cost exceeds $10,000 or 50 percent of the building’s replacement cost, whichever is greater.
  • The construction or installation of any parking area containing more than four parking spaces.
  • The repair, rehabilitation or expansion of any existing surface parking area containing more than four parking spaces, if such repair, rehabilitation or expansion would increase the number of existing parking spaces by more than 25 percent or four spaces.

Vehicular use area screening is required for:

  • The construction of any vehicular use area of 1,200 square feet or more than that is visible from a public right of way.
  • The construction of any vehicular use area larger than 1,200 square feet or more contiguous to a residential district or existing institution (e.g., schools, hospitals or churches).
  • The repair, rehabilitation or expansion of any existing vehicular use area, if such repair, rehabilitation or expansion would increase the number of existing parking spaces by more than 25 percent or four spaces, whichever is less.

Internal landscaping for vehicular use areas is required for:

  • Construction of vehicular use areas of 3,000 square feet or more.

What kinds and amounts of landscaping are required?

Parkway Trees: The ordinance requires the planting of one shade tree, at least two inches in caliper, for every 25 feet of frontage.

Vehicular Use Area Screening: Parking lots must have a two- to four-foot high hedge within a five-foot landscaped setback. The required setback is 15 to 20 feet if the lot is located in a residential district. Screening along side or rear lot lines by a wall, fence or hedge between five and seven feet.

Vehicular Use Area Internal Planting: Shade trees at least two inches in caliper must be planted in landscape islands of at least 165 square feet The total landscape area must equal five percent of the vehicular use area. One tree must be planted for every 250 square feet of interior landscaped area.

Is a special permit necessary for the installation of required landscaping?

No separate landscape permit is required. Landscaping permits are part of the normal processing of building and zoning permit applications.

If you are required to apply for building or zoning permits, you may be required to submit landscaping plans. Determine whether the project is subject to the requirements of these guidelines; determine the exact requirements; prepare a landscape plan; and then submit the plan to the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) as part of the building permit application.

DPD staff will review and approve or disapprove the landscape plan. If it is not approved, specific recommendations to bring the landscape plan into conformance with these guidelines will be noted on a correction sheet.

What information must be submitted?

  • A landscape plan must be a scale drawing of the site that includes:
  • Notation of scale no smaller than 1” = 40’0”
  • Estimated time of planting
  • Drawing scale
  • Drawing orientation indicated by conventional north arrow
  • Property lines, easements and right-of-way frontage with dimensions shown
  • Site triangles at intersections and at alley driveway curb cuts
  • Total vehicular use area calculation
  • Location and dimensions of all landscaped areas including perimeter screening, parkway plantings and interior landscaping; location, botanical name and size of all plant material and ground cover; and the location of other pertinent landscape features.
  • Location of existing and proposed street lights and fire hydrants in public rights-of-way
  • Size and location of all existing and proposed public and private utility improvements within the public rights-of-way.
  • Proposed layout of vehicular use areas including the location, dimensions of parking spaces, curb islands, interior plantings, pedestrian walkways and maneuvering aisles.
  • Location of all existing mature trees on site that the applicant proposes to remove; the location of all trees with caliper greater than two inches that are to be retained and counted towards the minimum requirements.
  • The location, design, height and building material of all proposed walls, planter boxes and fences.
  • Street traffic direction using two-way or one-way arrows.
  • Landscape permit drawings must contain the following statement: The undersigned acknowledges that the landscape planting shown on the landscape plan(s) for the property at (fill in street address), Chicago, IL (fill in zip code) has, to the best of the undersigned applicant’s knowledge, been designed and will be installed, maintained and replaced as required by the current and subsequent owners in accordance with the requirements of the Landscape Ordinance of the City of Chicago and of this publication, “Guide to the Chicago Landscape Ordinance.”

How long does it take to get a permit?

A simple landscape plan will require no more time than is required for normal processing of building and zoning applications. In some cases, conditional approval of zoning permits are granted pending the Bureau of Forestry’s review of proposed parkway trees. The Bureau of Forestry processes parkway tree plans within seven working days.

What types of trees are acceptable?

High quality, nursery-grown trees must be planted because of potential damage by pollutants such as salt and carbon monoxide common to city streets. To prevent the planting of trees that become hazards or serious maintenance problems, consult the recommended species list on page 41 of the ordinance.

What development projects are exempt from landscaping requirements?

  • Construction, repair or rehabilitation of any one, two or three-family dwelling. For these homes, parkway trees are planted by the City.
  • Restoration of any building or portion thereof damaged by fire, explosion, flood, casualty or other calamity.
  • Construction, repair or rehabilitation of any accessory buildings or structures.
  • Parkways trees are not required where the parkway is less than nine feet wide; Screening is not required for parking, loading or vehicular use areas smaller than 1,200 square feet; Interior landscaping is not required for construction of a parking, loading or other vehicular use area smaller than 3,000 square feet.

Can landscaping requirements be waived?

The screening or landscape requirements may be waived or modified provided that the Zoning Administrator finds that (1) the strict application of the requirements would deprive the applicant of reasonable use of the land or would otherwise impose an unreasonable hardship, and (2) the conditions and circumstances upon which the waiver or modification is sought are not caused by the applicant. Furthermore, the Zoning Administrator may permit an architectural or urban design solution to the screening of parking areas provided the alternative meets the requirements of Subsection 11.7A-3 (10) of the Chicago Zoning Ordinance.

Who is responsible for the maintenance of required landscaping?

All required landscaping must be maintained by the property owner in good condition.

Any damaged or dead trees, shrubs or ground cover must be promptly replaced. Maintenance of landscaped areas includes weeding, mowing, trimming, pruning, edging, cultivation, seeding, fertilizing, watering, pest control and anything else necessary to ensure healthy, vigorous plant growth.

The landscaping code requires property owners to maintain parkway trees for a minimum period of five years following their initial planting. After five years, the Bureau of Forestry will assume responsibility for maintenance. Landscaping planted on private property must be maintained during all times the property remains in use.

How will landscaping requirements be enforced?

Personnel from the Bureau of Forestry and the Department of Planning and Development will inspect project sites to ensure that the required landscaping has been installed. A Certificate of Occupancy will not be issued until inspectors have visited the site and determined that the required landscaping has been installed. Surface parking lots and other vehicular use areas require a Certificate of Occupancy.

If weather prevents the installation of required landscaping, the Zoning Administrator may accept a performance bond to insure that within a reasonable time period (up to six months) the required landscaping will be installed. Following the installation of required landscaping and inspection by City personnel, the performance bond will be released.

NOTE: This summary has been published only as an introductory guide to requirements of Chicago’s Landscape Ordinance. For any specific project, the actual language of the ordinance should be consulted.

For more information contact:

City of Chicago
Department of Planning and Development
121 N. LaSalle St., Room 905
Chicago, IL 60602
Phone: 312.744.4777
Fax: 312.744.6552

Supporting Information Facts

Additional Information

See also:

Bureau of Forestry