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"Aldermanic Prerogative" in Chicago


Here's a question: This year the City of Chicago's zoning ordinance is being revised for the first time since 1957. Over the last 45 years, local aldermen have been given huge latitude to almost unilaterally change zoning within their wards by introducing amendments to the zoning ordinance before City Council.

The aldermen will down- or up-zone properties in any given area within their ward to suit their desires, and their amendments are rarely if ever challenged by City Council, ZBA, Plan Commission, the Mayor's Office or the planning department. Here, this has come to be known as "aldermanic prerogative."

What has resulted is a zoning mish-mash throughout the city that can be a nightmare for the planners and is now being dealt with through the City's Zoning Reform Commission. However, "aldermanic prerogative" is not on the table as a zoning reform issue.

Since leaving the City of Chicago I've worked in other places as a consultant and seen how different things can be. I'm wondering how unique is Chicago's take on zoning? Are there other places that approach this?


You gotta love government in the big cities. That same stuff goes on in Philly all the time. I'd have to assume it goes along with all the scumbags we put in office in our cities, I know we have alot of em here.


Cyburbian Emeritus

I'd pull my hair out working in that system, except I'm already shaving my head.

In Milwaukee, they at least give the perception of being unbaised most of the time, by running all petitions through a "Zoning, Neighborhoods, and Development" subcommittee of the Council.

A few years ago, a controversial Jewl-Osco store didn't have the votes to make it out of Committe, but a few key Aldermen pulled it out that Committee to an unrelated "Steering and Rules" committee, which as a matter of form never deals with zoning issues.

The matter erupted in controversy, the Committee and Council approved the rezoning, the store got built, then courts ruled the rezoning to be invalid. The store still stands.

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