Smart Growth Strategies: Planning and Multi-Family Zoning Considerations

Zoning can be complex. Multi-family zoning is no exception. There are different levels and types, and some overlap. Mistakes or a lack of understanding of zoning laws or fighting the zoning board can be costly and timely. Luckily, working with a local contractor, such as ETI Construction, makes navigating multi-family zoning easier. We understand the regulations and work to ensure our clients develop their new multi-family homes with no issues.  

multi-family zoning

What is Zoning? 

Zoning refers to the process of dividing land into different zones or districts for specific purposes. Purposes include residential, commercial, industrial, or agricultural use. Zoning regulations dictate the types of activities or structures allowed in each zone. They influence building height, lot size, setbacks from property lines, and other parameters.

These ordinances promote orderly development, protect property values, ensure compatibility between land uses, and safeguard the health, safety, and welfare of residents. 

Zoning can be a complex. It involves balancing the interests of property owners, developers, residents, and the community as a whole. Changes to zoning regulations often require public hearings and may spark debate among stakeholders with differing perspectives on how land should be used and developed. Zoning codes and maps are useful for developers, investors, and contractors to understand what they are allowed to accomplish. 

Types of Zoning 

Zoning districts and ordinances are enacted and enforced on a local level. While the types of zoning vary, these are the common districts. 

Residential Zoning 

These areas are designated for single and multi-family residences. Additional zoning may distinguish between multi-family zoning and single-family residences. 

Commercial Zoning

Commercial zones are intended for businesses that provide consumer goods and services and for a wide variety of commercial, retail, office, and recreational uses.

Industrial Zoning 

Industrial zones are intended for research and development, factories, warehousing, and other industrial uses.

Agricultural Zoning 

Agricultural-zoned areas are currently used for agricultural and farming purposes but may be developed for urban use in the future. 

Forestry Zoning 

Forestry zones protect forest land from being divided into parcels and limit development to avoid conflicts with forestry practices.

Open Space Zoning

Open space areas are left in a mostly natural state and designed for public recreation. 

multi-family residence

Multi-Family Zoning in Chicago 

Multi-family zoning ordinances are designed to ensure multi-family homes are compatible with surrounding land uses and do not excessively strain local infrastructure. The overall goal is to maintain a level of livability and quality of life for current residents and potential new ones. 

Multi-family zoning falls under residential zoning. In Chicago, residential zoning is divided into RS (single-unit, detached house), RT (detached houses, two-flats, townhouses and low-density, multi-unit residential buildings). RM districts for residential multi-units have even more levels and distinctions based on density, building heights, number of units, and even the multi-family floor plans and floor area ratios.

Other considerations for multi-family zoning include the “established neighborhood character” in reference to surrounding buildings and mixed-use spaces blending residential and commercial areas. Chicago has additional zoning districts specific to the Downtown area, including DR for Downtown Residential and DX for Downtown-Mixed Use. An online zoning map helps developers navigate the area. 

Understanding zoning districts and the regulations that apply to them can be challenging. Property developers working on multi-family residences want to avoid conflict with the zoning board and have all building permits approved easily. Partnering with a local contracting firm with experience and knowledge of the local regulations makes building a multi-family home less stressful. 

Planning with Zoning in Mind 

Developing a multi-family residence, from the parking lot to the floor plans, is done with zoning regulations in mind. Zoning regulations can impact the building height, number of units, architectural style, landscape, and materials. Multi-family zoning ordinances often include a minimum number of parking spaces required for each unit or per square footage or access to adjacent parking structures. 

Ordinances can limit the design of a multi-family development, and property owners may need to adapt their initial design plans to comply with regulations. Researching local ordinances prior to starting construction on a multi-family home is key to avoiding the time and cost involved with reworking plans. 

Developers can always appeal to the zoning board and hope for an exception to the ordinance, but that process can eat into the overall project timeline. Zoning ordinances are not in place just for aesthetics; they relate to traffic congestion and impacts on infrastructure and utilities. 

Complying with zoning laws and working to ensure new development is compatible with the surrounding properties lowers the chances of opposition from neighbors. Planners look at this in terms of building scale, design, and density to improve community relations.  Engaging with the local community early in the development process! Especially if you do plan to appeal to the zoning board, this is crucial. The court of public opinion does not ignore multi-family homes. Communicating the benefits of the potential development early on can reduce the hesitancy of local residents. 

multi-family floor plans

ETI is Your Local Contractor

A local contractor understands multi-family zoning and the community. They probably even know the names of the individuals on the zoning board. Local contractors also understand the weather, traffic, history, geography, and socioeconomics of the area better than an outsiders. ETI Construction understands Chicago. Our team is well-prepared and has an understanding of how to anticipate things like traffic, weather, and even zoning and municipal regulations. Working with a local contractor means staying on schedule and budget. Plus, not spending time or money due to issues or confusion surrounding local regulations. 

ETI Construction is ready to work with you on any of your construction or renovation plans. Supporting local general contractors with our care and dedication, as well as our love and knowledge of Chicago means setting yourself up for success. No matter the project.