Property owners who want to build more space on their land have some options. The typical route, and available across the city, is to apply for a zoning change to a classification with a higher “dash” number. Owners in certain parts of the city may be able to get an increase in density based on the property's location.

Rezoning to a higher “dash” number means greater permissible office space, commercial space, or apartments or condos allowances, and a lower parking minimum.

One issue with applying for a zoning change in Chicago is that there is no guarantee that the rezoning would be granted, nor is there any certainty of its cost and timeline. To try and resolve some of that uncertainty, MAPS uses an “Alderman Favorability Index” to create a data-informed recommendation about any given alderman's likelihood to approve zoning changes and how long it takes.

The alternative is to select a site that would be eligible for one of Chicago's location-based density bonus programs. All five of them increase the allowable Floor Area Ratio (FAR; zoning code's measurement of permitted density on a property).

For all bonuses, MAPS can determine a property's geographic eligibility quickly. Contact us at any time or learn more about our pre-development and zoning services.

Density bonuses in Chicago

1. Proximity to transit

Probably the most well-known density bonus is the “Transit-Served Location” (TSL) ordinance, more commonly known as the TOD bonus. These are areas around CTA and Metra train stations where the FAR bonus is free, but it must be obtained through a Type 1 zoning map amendment or a planned development. The bonus allows an increase of FAR up to 0.5, and it reduces the minimum lot area (MLA) per unit. Translation? More dwelling units, commercial, or office space is permitted.

The property must be in a non-residential "dash 3" district (C1-3 or B2-3, for example) and within 1,320 feet (1/4 mile) of the station. If the property is on a zoned "Pedestrian Street", the property can be as far as 2,640 feet (1/2 mile) of the station. Owners who take advantage of the TOD ordinance must also follow certain ground floor, pedestrian-focused building design rules.

2. Proximity to transit + more on-site affordable housing

If the TOD bonus applies to a property, then this bonus also applies to residential uses proposed on that property. Every proposed residential building with 10 or more units that receives a zoning change, TIF assistance, or Chicago-owned land must rent or sell a portion of the dwelling units at a reduced rate. Typically, this rule, called the Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO) requires that 10% of the building's units are affordable. A quarter of those (2.5% of the building's total units) must be built on site. Three quarters of those (7.5% of the building's total units) can be built on site, off site, or not at all via an in lieu fee.

If the developer goes above that requirement and proposes building at least half of those affordable units on site, then the developer can receive a 0.25 increase to the permitted FAR. If the developer proposes to build all of the affordable units on site (all of the 10% requirement), then the developer can receive a 0.5 increase to the permitted FAR. Both of those increases are in addition to the up to 0.5 increase received for being in proximity to transit.

3. Neighborhood opportunity

The Neighborhood Opportunity Bonus (NOB) is a "payment for more FAR" program available to properties in D (Downtown) districts and the Downtown Expansion Area (areas that can be rezoned to D districts). The cost for more FAR is somewhat market based, using a formula that factors in the median cost of buildable square footage that the Chicago Department of Planning & Development evaluates annually.

Money collected through this program is spent on grants to small businesses on the South and West Sides through the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund.

4. North Branch corridor

Last year the City adopted new zoning rules for properties along the Chicago River's north branch and around Goose Island to eliminate a PMD and allow rezoning, in some areas, from M (manufacturing) districts to B, C, and D districts.

Certain properties are eligible for a "payment for more FAR" program similar to the Neighborhood Opportunity Bonus. The formula for this program also factors in land cost, but at a different factor.

There are two eligible groups of properties in the new North Branch Corridor Overlay (NBCO):

  1. NBCO Subdistrict A, and in a B-3 or C-3 zone

  2. NBCO Subdistrict C, and in a DX-5 zone

Contact MAPS to determine if a property of interest is in one of these subdistricts and zoning districts.

5. Kinzie Corridor bonus

Map of the Kinzie Corridor Overlay district where property owners can apply for a zoning change to DX and then purchase more FAR through the Neighborhood Opportunity Bonus.

Map of the Kinzie Corridor Overlay district where property owners can apply for a zoning change to DX and then purchase more FAR through the Neighborhood Opportunity Bonus.

The Kinzie Corridor bonus is a subprogram of the Neighborhood Opportunity Bonus. Owners of property in the Kinzie Corridor Overlay (KCO) district that's zoned DX, or that can be rezoned to DX, can purchase more FAR. The formula is the same as in the Neighborhood Opportunity Bonus.

There are no density bonuses in R (residential) districts.

Contact the zoning team at MAP Strategies if you have any questions or want to run a project idea by us.