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CHICAGO-A long-overdue rewrite of the zoning code should include provisions that encourage development of affordable housing as well as make new units more accessible to those with disabilities, the city council’s committee on zoning was told Thursday. Advocates included community groups and organizations representing persons with disabilities, as well as Mid-North Financial Services, Inc. president and chairman Albert C. Hanna, who has been involved in legal action against the city’s zoning practices.

The new residential zoning code would cut the two densest classifications, and add four “half-step” classifications aimed at creating transitional areas between low- medium- and high-density single- and multifamily development. The entire five-part zoning code is likely to be approved by the city council in the second quarter of 2003, says 36th Ward Alderman William J.P. Banks.

“We’re in desperate need of new housing,” says Hanna, pointing to studies indicating the city’s population will continue to increase through the century. “There are so many items here that do not work for the development community.”

For instance, parking mandates end up taking away units, including those that can be wheelchair accessible, committee members were told.

“Chicago has long accounted for parks and cars by zoning for open space and parking. Why not affordable housing?” suggests Chicago Rehab Network executive director Kevin Jackson. “In our current economy, a full-time job no longer guarantees someone a place to live. And the amount a worker must earn to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Chicago has risen over the past year to a shocking $17.85 per hour.”

Meanwhile, Chicago’s building codes have increased the cost of multifamily construction by nearly $20 per sf during the past five years, Hanna contends.

While Hanna has long maintained the city is “zoning for the privileged class,” Banks counters officials are attempting to strike a balance with community wishes. “There’s a terrible dichotomy we have to deal with—what people want and what it should be,” Banks says.

When the zoning maps are redrawn at the community level, developers may clamor for the new RM-6 and RM-6.5 classifications, which could allow for five to 12 units on a lot, or be willing to settle for RM-5 and RM-5.5, which would for four to eight units.

“Given the forces of free enterprise, they want to max out,” says Alderman Eugene Schulter, whose 47th Ward is among those seeing keen redevelopment interest.

Chicago Rehab Network is among the groups supporting an ordinance advanced by 4th Ward Alderman Toni Preckwinkle requiring a greater percentage of units set aside at affordable rents and for-sale prices than called for by current city practices.

The zoning code rewrite is the first since 1957. “To put it in perspective, Eisenhower was president and the Cubs had only gone 50 years without winning the World Series,” quips Edward J. Kus, executive director of the zoning reform commission.

The new ordinance is the result of more than two years of meetings by the commission, including public hearings throughout the city.

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