Study Background 

Q: What is a Special Character Overlay District (SCOD)? 

A Special Character Overlay District is a zoning tool  to protect a neighborhood's unique character and consider the relationship between place and architecture, including the area’s demographics, culture, and environment. A special character district has specific boundaries that help control the size, scope, and use of construction projects. Pending community input, a district could also include design guidelines to help ensure future projects are compatible with a neighborhood’s character. A SCOD does not prevent demolition unless the individual building is designated a Chicago Landmark or is a contributing building in a Chicago Landmark District. See below for more information.   


Q: What is the value of this tool on Milwaukee Avenue? 

The corridor could benefit from a Special Character Overlay District to provide a more specific design review of future development. A Special Character Overlay District can help achieve community-identified goals involving aesthetic character for the built environment. Overlay district regulations supplement the zoning regulations of the applicable base districts. The SCOD designation would be contingent on community input and City Council approval.  


Q: Are there other Special Character Overlay Districts in Chicago? 

Character Overlay Districts are located along portions of Roscoe Street, Longwood Drive, Southport Avenue and within Norwood Park and Sheridan Park. However, they do not have design guidelines for rehabilitation or new construction development.   


Q: Is a SCOD the same as a Landmark District?  

SCOD and Landmark Districts are different. Overlay districts “overlay” applicable base district classifications to alter some or all of the zoning regulations that apply to particular sites and is governed by authorized regulations and standards outlined in 17-7-0603. Landmark Districts are governed by the specific Landmark Designation Ordinance for the district and the standards and guidelines adopted by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks.  


Q: What is the Chicago Historic Resources Survey (CHRS)? Why is it relevant to SCOD? 

The Chicago Historic Resources Survey is an inventory of architecturally and historically significant structures built before 1940. With a color-coded rating system, it was completed in 1995 after 10 years of research. The SCOD will develop additional surveys and analyses to update and further define building character features and criteria on Milwaukee Avenue. 


Q: Will demolition of the buildings within a designated SCOD trigger a demolition delay?  

Unless a building is considered “red” or “orange” rated, as designated by the Chicago Historic Resource Survey (CHRS), it does not trigger a demolition delay under a SCOD.  


The Demolition-Delay Ordinance, adopted by City Council in 2003, establishes a hold of up to 90 days in the issuance of any demolition permit for certain historic buildings in order that the Department of Planning and Development can explore options, as appropriate, to preserve the building, including but not limited to landmark designation. 



Q: What are the outcomes or deliverables of this process?  

One of the outcomes of this project will be to complete the SCOD community engagement process as outlined in 17-13-0500. The deliverables will include a survey of “character buildings,” a map of the boundary designation, and a set of design guidelines that will guide new development and building renovations. Once the engagement process and deliverables are finalized, an ordinance designating a Special Character Overlay District for a specific boundary of Milwaukee Avenue may be introduced to City Council, followed by a hearing and vote at the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standard, and then a vote by City Council. 


Q: Are 'character buildings' the same as 'landmark buildings'?  
Landmark buildings are designated by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, whose nine members are appointed by the Mayor and City Council. Listed sites are selected after meeting a combination of criteria, including historical, economic, architectural, artistic, cultural, and social values. Landmark status also requires Commission review for any proposed alteration, demolition, or new construction affecting individual landmarks or landmark districts. Character buildings may also date from the historic development of the community and have architectural features, craftsmanship, and decorative details unique to the neighborhood but do not require Commission on Chicago Landmarks approval or review. Character buildings also do not trigger demolition delay unless they are categorized as “red” or “orange” rated according to the CHRS.  



Q: How would a Special Character Overlay District be implemented? 

The establishment process must include at least one community meeting prior to review and approval by City Council, according to the ordinance (17-13-0500) which was updated in October 2020. The process for the Milwaukee Avenue Special Character Overlay District will include four community meetings throughout the course of the project.  


Q: Will this Overlay District affect my property values or property taxes?  

There are limited correlations between Special Character Overlay District designations (also known as Neighborhood Conservation Districts) and property values, which are more directly influenced by multiple issues relating to market conditions within a neighborhood.  


Q: What are the restrictions as to who can do the work or repair in a Special Character Overlay District? 

A Special Character Overlay District designation has no control over who repairs or works on district properties. The district simply requires DPD staff to review formal building permit applications that are submitted to the Department of Buildings. 


Q: How will this Overlay District affect the designation of Milwaukee Avenue (Sangamon Street to Greenwood Road in the Village of Niles) as a Polish Heritage Corridor? 

This project will not affect this designation and will work concurrently with this effort. The planning team and the City are are in communication elected officials and businesses organizations that support the proposed heritage corridor designation.