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Chicago, the city of neighborhoods, could have a major battle in its future between community leaders and developers as it starts the long journey of revamping its 43-year-old zoning ordinance. Mayor Richard M. Daley at a recent press conference introduced the 21-member Zoning Reform Commission. The conference took place in Pilsen, a historically ethnic neighborhood southwest of Chicago’s Loop that some feel is an area that may be threatened by gentrification and high-density redevelopment.

“Chicago needs to rewrite the zoning ordinance so that it is compatible with modern uses, and meets the unique needs and goals of our neighborhoods for today and into the future,” said Daley. With the city in the midst of a building boom it hasn’t seen since rebuilding after the Great Fire of 1871, itÕs easy to find examples of projects and “mini high-rises” that are not compatible with the scale and density of current development. There’s even a photo example of this on the City’s Web site devoted to the ordinance, www.cityofchicago.org/mayor/zoning.

Some of the goals of the ordinance include: protecting property values; strengthening neighborhood retail districts; establishing design standards for both downtown and the neighborhoods; improving access to transportation; encouraging the development of more parks and open space; and simplifying code regulations.

Even with such lofty goals in mind, politics do enter the picture. Chairman of the commission is attorney John R. Schmidt, a partner with Mayer Brown & Platt and a former Democratic candidate for Illinois governor. He was also once Mayor Daley’s chief of staff. Schmidt has put an estimate of “more than a year,” for the rewrite of the code. However, something as complex as this, with more than one million parcels of property, could take as long as three years by some calculations.

What’s a citizen to do in the interim? The City is asking for feedback and suggestions at its Web site. The site also states that there will be a series of open meetings planned throughout the city for public discussion of the zoning rewrite, but, as of July 28, no dates were scheduled.

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