Speak up at the meeting on May 23!

You’ve read the factsheet. You’ve signed the petition. You know the downsides to down-zoning. You’ve watched the Exchange Ideas video of our public discussion. You know what the experts say, and that there are no examples that support the proposed down-zoning?

What can you do now?

Whether you live in the 5th Ward, the 7th Ward, or the 8th Ward – your views matter.

Attend the 5th Ward Meeting:
Tuesday, May 23 at 6pm
Bryn Mawr Community Church (7000 S. Jeffery)

Quick Links


Are there successful examples of down-zoning?

Ald. Hairston and her staff claim that there are numerous examples where down-zoning has revived struggling commercial corridors. Unfortunately they have not provided specific details, despite having promised to do so. We have conducted our own research, reviewing zoning maps and consulting with experienced planners. No examples we have found support the proposed down-zoning of 71st Street.


The existing zoning on 71st Street includes B (business), C (commercial), and PD (Planned Development). Ald. Hairston has proposed changing all of the parcels currently zoned B and C (the PD parcels aren’t included) to RS-3 (single-family residential – among the most restrictive zoning designations). Our research has focused on finding commercial corridors where zoning has been reduced from B and C to RS-3, but we have looked at all potential examples mentioned by supporters of the down-zoning proposal.

The sole remotely comparable example we have found – 35th Street in McKinley Park – is more of a cautionary tale than a model for development. The proposed down-zoning of 71st is not a proven strategy for economic development, but rather an unprecedented use of zoning policy towards alternative ends – and one likely to have unintended negative consequences. With the future of our neighborhood at stake, we believe that this down-zoning should be halted while a comprehensive and collaborative planning process, involving professional planners and meaningful input from the community, takes place.

Sign the petition and attend the 5th Ward Meeting: Tuesday May 23rd, 6pm, Bryn Mawr Community Church (7000 S. Jeffery)

Previous examples

Please see our initial post on this issue for comparisons to East 53rd Street in Hyde Park, East 63rd Street in Woodlawn, West 26th Street in Little Village and Lakeview on the North Side. 53rd, 26th, and numerous streets in Lakeview are all vibrant commercial corridors, all of which carry similar zoning to what 71st Street currently has (B, C, and PD). In contrast, 63rd Street does not, and continues to struggle with vacancy and economic stagnation.

Garfield Park

The Alderman cited Garfield Park as a neighborhood where down-zoning has been used to positive effect, but could not provide a specific street or intersection. We reviewed the zoning for the whole neighborhood, particularly along the main commercial arteries of Madison and Pulaski, and found nothing comparable. And even if we had found comparable examples, Garfield Park is struggling with high levels of disinvestment, crime, and vacancy – hardly a model to be emulated in South Shore.

(As a reminder, these maps were obtained from the terrific 2nd City Zoning website. Business and commercial zoning is blue, industrial is yellow, and green is residential. Darker shades indicate denser or more permissive zoning. Red areas are Planned Developments, which have gone through a special proposal and planning process, including community input, to build a development that would not normally be permitted by an area’s zoning.)


Bronzeville was the second neighborhood example cited by the Alderman, again without a more specific location named. We reviewed current zoning for all of the neighborhood’s commercial corridors and noted that only 43rd Street has significant stretches zoned residential. 43rd Street was historically a minor commercial corridor compared to 35th and 47th, and it struggles today to attract economic development – once again not an example to be followed on 71st.

West 35th Street, McKinley Park

35th Street in McKinley Park was the only commercial corridor we found that now carries primarily RS-3 zoning. The zoning appears to have been instituted in 2004. Although we aren’t yet positive what designation it previously carried, the history of the neighborhood and the type of architecture tell us that it was built as a commercial artery. In the 13 years since the RS-3 zoning was put in place, economic development has not materialized – despite the fact that McKinley Park is a stable middle- and working-class area with low crime and good transportation. Economic development in the area has instead been confined to big-box developments on Ashland and Archer Avenues. The area of 35th Street that was down-zoned features numerous empty or under-utilized storefronts, and many that have been converted to residences – not a reassuring vision for the future of 71st Street!

Garfield Boulevard, Washington Park

The area immediately west of King Drive on Garfield Blvd. (55th Street) in Washington Park has also been mentioned as an example. However, the majority of this area in fact carries B zoning. The portion of it that is now zoned RS-3 is largely vacant land on the northwest corner, including only a gas station and the Garfield Green Line station. The area is well-known to be a future development site for the University of Chicago, which now controls the majority of the property on these blocks. As with 53rd Street, the influence of the U of C – a strategic developer with enormous resources – makes this an inappropriate comparison to 71st Street. And even if we were to accept this as a relevant example, the idea that an expanse of vacant land is a positive vision for what can be achieved through down-zoning is disturbing, to say the least.

West 47th Street, Back of the Yards

The Back of the Yards community has also apparently experimented with down-zoning on the portion of 47th Street between Western and California. Another historically commercial corridor, it remains about 90% zoned for business and industrial uses. There are a handful of parcels now zoned RS-3, some of which are vacant, and some of which have non-conforming uses grandfathered in. We aren’t sure when or why down-zoning was applied here. (It’s also possible that most of the down-zoning done here simply reduced the allowable density and range of commercial uses, without changing the classification to residential.) At any rate, it is not comparable in scale to Hairston’s proposal, and does not appear to have been a success, given the dearth and low quality of development.

Down-zoning in gentrifying neighborhoods

Logan Square Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa has recently been in the news for his “heavy-handed” use of down-zoning in order to control development in one of the hottest corridors in the city, Milwaukee Avenue. Other examples of aldermanic down-zoning that you may have read about recently include East Pilsen and Avondale. (Another example in Wicker Park highlights some of the more worrisome aspects of down-zoning.) These actions are each controversial in their own way, but are not comparable to Ald. Hairston’s in scale, type, or intent:

  • They propose to down-zone individual properties in order to block specific proposed developments, whereas Hairston’s unprecedented proposal would impact dozens of properties along a 1.2 mile stretch on both sides of the street.
  • They mostly do not involve a change of zoning type, just a change in allowed density – unlike Hairston’s proposal. Zoning is a tool to control density, so this is an appropriate application of the law. Changing zoning category in order to gain complete control over businesses, as Hairston proposes, is an “off-label” use of the zoning code, opening up the possibility for unpredictable unintended consequences.
  • These changes have mostly been in response to vocal concern from constituents and community organizations. Hairston made her proposal without meaningful community input.
  • Down-zoning restricts economic activity, and thus is a strategy best used in communities with excessive development. That is not the problem we have in South Shore today.

The North Lakefront in the 1970s

Some supporters of down-zoning have referenced supposedly successful examples in north side lakefront neighborhoods in the 1970s. Indeed, significant down-zoning did take place from Edgewater to the Gold Coast in reaction to the proliferation of four-plus-ones (effectively banned in 1971) and very large apartment towers (largely stalled along the north lakefront by 1979). Much detail can be found in The Politics of Place: A History of Zoning in Chicago, but a few key points highlight just how different these examples are from what is being proposed on 71st Street:

  • The north lakefront was undergoing a significant development boom during the 1970s, leading developers to build the largest, densest residential buildings they could get away with. None of these circumstances apply to 71st Street today.
  • The opposition to four-plus-ones and apartment towers emerged from active community organizations, which came together to create neighborhood plans and hold aldermen and developers accountable to their visions. This, again, is quite different from how 71st Street is being managed today.
  • Finally, these examples all involved reducing the maximum allowable density of development – not changing its category. Land that was zoned for high-density residential use had its density reduced, but remained residential. Commercial streets were not changed to residential zoning – which is what is currently proposed for 71st Street.


We continue to find no successful and relevant examples of large-scale down-zoning of a commercial corridor to residential. With no evidence to support the proposal to down-zone 71st Street, we call instead for a comprehensive and collaborative planning process, involving professional planners and meaningful input from the community.

Call to Action

Sign the Petition


ATTEND the 5th Ward Meeting: Tuesday May 23rd, 6pm, Bryn Mawr Community Church (7000 S. Jeffery)

SHARE this information with your friends and neighbors:

TELL the Aldermen: No to down-zoning on 71st and Yes to a comprehensive planning process!


Expert Answers to Down-Zoning Questions

At Exchange Ideas on May 17, we fielded a lot of great questions and feedback over the course of about an hour of open discussion. We shared a summary of key questions with expert planners to get their take.

Answers were drafted by Steven Vance, Founder and CEO of Chicago Cityscape, a website that makes neighborhood, property, and construction development data accessible to all. Steven is an urban planner who creates apps and maps about active transportation modes and land use patterns in Chicago. He graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago’s College of Urban Planning and Public Administration (CUPPA), worked at the Chicago Department of Transportation, Active Transportation Alliance, and Streetsblog Chicago. Responses were also reviewed by Kurtis Pozsgay, AICP, a nationally-accredited urban planner who serves as Senior Planner for the Village of Bensenville and sits on the Economic Development Committee of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.

Q: What is the process for passing re-zoning ordinances, including timeline?

A: An ordinance to change the zoning classification of a parcel or group of parcels is introduced to City Council by the Mayor, the City Clerk, a City Council Member, a property owner, or a public person who has obtained the written consent of the property owner, and then referred to the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks, and Building Standards. The committee meets on a monthly basis, and announces the meetings 30 days prior on the City Clerk’s website. The committee can also hold special meetings that would typically consider a single topic or ordinance. The committee can defer the ordinance to be discussed and voted on at a future meeting, or never at all. The proposed ordinance can be rescinded by the person who introduces it. The ordinance takes effect “upon passage” by the City Council, although it may be up to two months before the Chicago Department of Planning & Development’s zoning division draws the new boundaries into the official map.

Q: How impactful is a plan developed with the help of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, or CMAP (which is what our petition calls for)? Will it just get put on a shelf and forgotten about? Can government funding (of any kind) be withheld on their recommendation?

A: Typically plans developed for a corridor, a district, or a neighborhood recommend development patterns after a participatory process where residents identify the problems and co-develop solutions with planners. These plans can be made by many organizations, and are often done in collaboration with the Chicago Department of Planning & Development because they have a lot of analytical resources and institutional knowledge. The plans, however, are merely advisory.

Plans can be made stronger if a zoning change that follows the plan’s recommendations is executed following its adoption. This would change the zoning districts in the area to match the plan’s recommendations as needed. For example, if the plan recommends that buildings on a particular block should have ground floor retail and a density of 2-4 households per building, then any zoning districts that don’t allow that kind of building would be changed to one that does. This tells existing residents and business owners, and future builders and developers, that they can expect a certain condition and welcome, so to speak, in the future – and won’t experience surprise zoning changes – when it comes time for them to move, expand a business, open a new business, or renovate or build new housing.

Q: Is any part of the down-zone area in Harris’s ward?

A: Seven of the eight downzoning ordinances that Hairston has proposed are in Hairston’s ward (5th), and one is in Mitchell’s ward (7th). None of the down-zoning area is in the 8th Ward (Harris), but she sits as a member of the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks, and Building Standards, so she has an important say over this as well.

Q: Does the alderman’s office have to apply to CMAP for assistance, or another organization?

A: The alderman should, indeed, contact CMAP to inquire about their Local Technical Assistance program which pays for and sometimes completes neighborhood plans. The alderman’s support for outside assistance in developing a plan is crucial to the adoption of the plan and executing its recommendations. If an outside organization doesn’t see support from elected officials, then there’s little reason to believe the recommendations would be enacted.

Q: Can we talk to or learn from other neighborhoods that have had success with this planning process?

A: There are several organizations which provide assistance to ward offices and community groups:

  • Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) has a Quality of Life Plan program that is ongoing

  • Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) created future development plans for the Stewart school (former CPS, sold to private developer) in Uptown, and a city-owned parking lot next to the Logan Square Blue Line station

  • Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) will help create topical plans around affordable housing, climate change resilience, and access to transit

Q: What happens to the Special Service Area (SSA) if 71st Street is down-zoned?

A: Zoning changes do not change how an SSA operates, or where its boundaries are.

Q: Do property tax rates change when a property goes from commercially zoned to residential?

A: Properties are taxed based on their uses, not their underlying zoning districts.

Q: After down-zoning, could owners rent out storefronts as residences as of right?

A: No. Any existing uses of the property are allowed (these are called “legal, non-conforming” uses), but a change in use must match the new zoning classification. If the property owner wants to change the storefront to a residential unit, they would have to renovate the building to match what the new zoning district requires. In the case of Hairston’s proposal of changing all the districts to RS-3, there are rules on the minimum size the residential unit has to be, and how much front, rear, and side yard space it has to have, all requiring substantial renovations or partial demolitions of the building.

Other side effects of this are that a property owner wouldn’t be able to subdivide their commercial space from one large space to two spaces; an owner also wouldn’t be able to subdivide an upstairs residential unit.

Q: Would businesses on the street still be eligible for Neighborhood Opportunity Fund money after down-zoning?

A: Yes, because that program offers grants based on the use of the property, not the property’s zoning class.

Exchange Ideas discussion of 71st Street a success

Thanks to the more than 30 South Shore neighbors who turned out for the special Exchange Ideas session focusing on the proposal to down-zone 71st Street! We reviewed the basic facts and discussed our call for a comprehensive planning process.

UPDATE: We had a lively question & answer session. We sent all of the questions to professional planners with whom we have been discussing this issue, and you can read their answers here.

The Planning Coalition live-streamed the discussion on Facebook if you missed it!

Now take action!

71st Street at sunset

We call for a Comprehensive & Collaborative Planning Process for South Shore!

We have started a petition calling for a comprehensive & collaborative planning process for South Shore.

We are a group of South Shore neighbors who have come together in response to 5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston’s proposed down-zoning of 71st Street. This proposal has not been publicly discussed, and we believe it will have a negative impact on much-needed economic development. We are also troubled by 7th Ward Alderman Mitchell’s proposed ordinance, which would give aldermen sweeping veto power over all business licenses. We don’t believe these approaches are the right way to address the challenges facing our commercial districts.

There is a more constructive way forward: a comprehensive & collaborative planning process, guided by a qualified planning organization, to discuss and shape the future direction of development. With so much changing so quickly just to our north, those of us who live in South Shore now have a historic opportunity to make decisions about the future of the neighborhood – before those decisions are made for us.

What You Can Do

Please visit our homepage to learn more about our concerns and proposal. (See this post for a detailed overview of our concerns about the down-zoning proposal.)

If you agree, please sign the petition to show your support – and share it with your friends and neighbors!

Sign the Petition

Stay Connected

We are committed to a productive public conversation about these issues. Updates will be shared online at southshoreforall.org/updates and in the Reclaiming South Shore for All Facebook group.

We expect that upcoming events will provide a forum for discussion of these issues as well, beginning with a special edition of Exchange Ideas scheduled for Wednesday, May 17, 6pm at ABJ Community Sevices (1818 E. 71st St.) We hope you’ll join us.

Email the organizers directly with questions, concerns, or to get involved at info@southshoreforall.org.

Stop the down-zoning of 71st Street!

Zoning change notification

5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston has filed a series of proposed ordinances to re-zone most of 71st Street, the commercial heart of South Shore, from a variety of zoning districts that allow retail and commercial businesses and single or multi-unit residential to only allow single-family homes. This will actively dissuade any future businesses from locating on our neighborhood’s most important commercial street.

Why is this a bad idea?

  • This will make it impossible to obtain ANY new business license on 71st without going through a time-consuming, costly process to seek a zoning variance. Re-zoning costs at least $1,000 in fees and adds at least 3 months of delay. It’s not as simple as asking for the support of the alderman; seeking a variance is a complicated legal process. This will virtually guarantee that no new businesses at all will open in the affected area – least of all small, local, entrepreneurial businesses that cannot afford to jump through these new legal hurdles. (Existing businesses that wish to expand or offer new services will also face these hurdles.)
  • The motive for this proposal appears to be to give the alderman leverage over “problem businesses” that may be linked to crime. This change will not provide the alderman with any new tools to enforce standards on existing problem businesses. Current business licenses are grandfathered in and can be renewed indefinitely.
  • No public debate, discussion, or announcement took place prior to the introduction of this proposal. Business and property owners in the affected area learned of the proposal when they received formal letters about it over the last couple of weeks. Other neighborhood residents first learned of the proposal when signs (pictured above) were posted on 71st Street during the week of April 24th.
  • This zoning change would permit developers to construct single-family homes on the vacant land along 71st, without any need to seek aldermanic or community approval. 71st Street is supposed to be a dense, walkable business district, and single-family homes would be inappropriate for the corridor. While there is probably not any plan to do this right now, this zoning change increases the risk of such inappropriate development in the future.

How does this compare to other neighborhoods?

It’s instructive to compare the proposed zoning to the zoning that exists on 71st and other commercial corridors now. Alderman Hairston wants to down-zone the blue areas in the map below from commercial/business to single-family residential. This would apply the most restrictive possible zoning to nearly the entire 71st Street corridor.

Now compare the proposed down-zoning to the existing zoning. The following maps were obtained from the terrific 2nd City Zoning website. Business and commercial zoning is blue, industrial is yellow, and green is residential. Darker shades indicate denser or more permissive zoning. Red areas are Planned Developments, which have gone through a special proposal and planning process, including community input, to build a development that would not normally be permitted by an area’s zoning.

71st Street (above) is currently zoned commercial. Jeffery Plaza was built as a Planned Development, as were the townhomes on the north side of the street near South Shore Drive. The rest currently has zoning that permits owners and tenants to obtain business licenses, as you would expect in a commercial district.

Woodlawn’s 63rd Street, once a major commercial thoroughfare, is a cautionary tale. Most of the street is subject to ill-advised Planned Development agreements. The result speak for themselves: a smattering of single-family homes, a lot of vacant land, and a mere two businesses east of Drexel. This is not a good model for 71st Street, with its terrific transit and dense, walkable environment.

A better nearby example, 53rd Street in Hyde Park has seen booming development in recent years. Nearly the entire stretch is zoned commercial – except for a couple of Planned Developments, put in place after significant community input to permit the denser Harper Court and Vue53 projects.

26th Street in Little Village is one of the most vibrant retail corridors in the city, populated almost entirely by the kind of small locally-owned and entrepreneurial businesses we would like to see in South Shore. Only the Magnificent Mile generates more in sales taxes than 26th Street in La Villita, and the entire corridor is zoned commercial.

Lakeview is one of Chicago’s most dynamic neighborhoods. Not everyone wants to live in such a congested community, and I am not arguing that South Shore should become more like Lakeview. But there’s no question that its commercial districts – along Belmont, Lincoln, Clark, Broadway, Ashland, Sheffield, and Southport – are thriving. They are all zoned for commercial use.

How will this impact new businesses on 71st?

Put yourself in the shoes of someone starting a business. You already face a lot of risk and uncertainty: what if the market for whatever you sell isn’t strong? What if you’re the first business to open on a block of vacant storefronts, and you don’t get much customer traffic? What if it takes so long to get all your licenses and pass all of your city inspections that you run out of money before you ever get a chance to open? (It happens.) What if you’re opening a restaurant or cafe (notoriously low-profit businesses, but also among those most desired by South Shore residents) and you just can’t afford any margin for error beyond your basic startup costs?

Facing all of these uncertainties, why would any entrepreneur or developer take on the additional risk of attempting to open on 71st Street? Before even signing a lease or beginning construction on a space, they would have to hire an attorney, pay at least $1,000 to the city, wait three months, and hope to be granted a zoning variance. (Note that getting a variance is not as simple as just talking to the alderman and getting permission.) This adds substantial expense and delay to the already difficult process of starting a business, and it will steer most potential new businesses away to other corridors with appropriate zoning.

This is not the way to build a thriving commercial street. We should be looking for positive tools and incentives to draw desirable businesses to locate on 71st Street. (And we should continue to use existing enforcement processes to deal with problem businesses.) Make no mistake: this zoning change means more vacant storefronts, fewer jobs, and very little chance that we’ll see any restaurants or other new businesses on 71st Street. This is not the way forward.

Take Action!

If this concerns you, contact your alderman (whether or not you live in the 5th Ward) and let them know that you are opposed to down-zoning 71st Street. Action on this proposal may be taken as soon as May 9, so time is of the essence.

South Shore neighbors may also want to join the discussion on the Reclaiming South Shore for All Facebook group, or by emailing info@southshoreforall.org.

Other Coverage (will be updated)

Links to Proposed Ordinances

Coalition Demands a Lakeside Community Benefits Agreement


On Tuesday, July 15th, over 100 neighbors from South Shore and South Chicago gathered to demand a Community Benefits Agreement for the Lakeside Development.

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Coordinated by a coalition of organizations, a proposed CBA was presented to 7th Ward Alderman Natashia Holmes, who is supportive, as well as to McCaffery Interests, the developer.


The document details many hopes and expectations for the development, both benefits it should provide to the existing community and harms it must seek to mitigate. View a draft here. See more coverage in DNAinfo. The slide image below also has ideas if you’d like to voice your support for the CBA.