On Zoning: Skokie, Illinois

February 3, 2023

Well, since On Zoning is now a series, I had to find a place to start. Somewhere not too big, yet has enough transit to actually make it relevant to the blog and the Pawtucket post. I figured that I should start somewhere that's easy to get to in the dead of winter, so why not Skokie? I've been here before and it has a fair chunk of transit access.

Skokie is divided into a number of residential, commercial, and industrial zoning districts, and also has a group of mixed use districts in the downtown area. Seems standard enough for a suburban town (or in this case, the Village of Skokie). I'm not going in depth about every single district in the village, but there are a few that definitely need to be covered. (Sec. 118-124 through 118-127, 118-143, 118-144, 118-181)
- Single-Family (R1) and Single-Family (R2) - Primarily single-family zoning and covers a large portion of the village. The only difference between R1 and R2 are lot size requirements, where R1 lots are required to contain an extra 1,800 square feet and be at least 15 feet wider than R2 lots.
- Combined Housing (R3) and Multifamily Housing (R4) - Primary districts for multi-family developments, mainly two and three-unit buildings. R4 tends to serve as the main district for this, while R3 can be seen as a transition zone.
- Core Mixed-Use (CX) - Mixed-use development mostly found in the downtown area of the vilage. Height limit of 156 feet is surprising here, considering the residential districts allow for between 26 and 40 feet, depending on lot size and use. Minimum height of 25 feet and two stories also applies.
- Commercial (B2) and Business (B3) - The main business districts I'll be talking about in this post. Dimensional requirements vary a lot in B3 districts, while B2 districts have a maximum height of 35 feet (40 if bordering an R4 district). I could write an entire On Zoning post on Skokie's B3 district, no joke. Simply put, B2 can go near residential, but B3 can't. Where there is B3, B2 is the transition between commercial and residential.

I had to start somewhere. The Old Orchard Mall at the end of the 201 is technically in Skokie and has transit connections to the rest of the village, so I made my way there. The short stretch of the 201 runs along Old Orchard Road, and is surrounded by R1 zoning. This contains both a cemetery and a golf course (I have mixed opinions on if golf courses are a good land use). The mall exists, is a bus transfer point as well, but is fully surrounded by a sea of parking lots. It's just a Macy's and other stores you can find everywhere else. You have five bus routes going all different directions as well.

The zoning around Old Orchard Mall. The 97 continues south from the mall, through mostly B2 and B3 zoning. Pace's 208 also serves the northern part of the village through the main R1 district. (Village of Skokie Zoning Map)

I found that the B3 zoning is mostly along stroads... no comment, this is On Zoning, not On Induced Demand. Not super transit-friendly through here. As I moved south towards the Yellow Line at Dempster-Skokie, residential development popped up. All the development along Niles Center Road and Skokie Boulevard (up to Church Street) and along the 97's route is zoned R4. Once again... Skokie Boulevard is a stroad. Niles Center Road, is not. Good for Skokie with zoning for denser housing along the main bus route across the village, with a bus every twenty minutes.

The land use around the Dempster-Skokie Yellow Line station is atrocious. Okay, maybe not atrocious, but terrible to say the least. The entirety of Dempster Street (also Pace's 250 runs on this road, with Pulse expansion coming soon) is zoned B3.

B3 zoning along Dempster Street. Single story buildings with small parking lots in front. This is the standard B3 development in the village.

That, right in front of the train station. Yep. Fortunately, directly east of the station is a large area of R4 zoning. I find that a lot of the R4 zoning in the village is two-unit buildings. With a minimum lot size of 4,800 square feet, the area doesn't seem underbuilt at all. The village had a population boom through the 1950s, and a lot of the housing looks straight from that time period. Not the most aesthetically pleasing, but does the job really well. Provides dense housing near frequent transit. The area is also very walkable (well, maybe not if there is not-fully-cleared snow that froze over).

The zoning near the Dempster-Skokie train station and 97 bus route. Lots and lots of residential located in the area, with that B3 zoning along the stroad that is Dempster Street. (Village of Skokie Zoning Map)

I actually walked the distance between Dempster-Skokie and downtown Skokie, along Oakton Street. Residential uses continued, but as I got closer to the downtown area, the mixed-use began.

Mixed-use! That height minimum of 25 feet and two stories in the CX district provides a wonderful and pleasing downtown area.

The mixed-use district is also right near transit! The Oakton-Skokie station, which opened in 2012, is right at the edge of the district along Oakton Street and the 97 bus. While there are some parking minimums, they are not excessive, and as a result, the entire downtown area is focused on being walkable with adequate transit facilities (benches and shelters galore).

This mixed-use district (in green) is sprawling as well, and there is still development underway!

Woah. Located in the mixed-use district, this building appears to make the most out of the 156 foot height limit.

At this point, I moved to the most important part of the village. The Yellow Line has no stops between Oakton-Skokie and Howard, and only the 97 bus covers the area between the two. Until an infill is built, the 97 is the local way to get between the two, and for people not close to either station, the 97 is the main transit connection to the train.

I gave Oakton Street a pass for having four lanes through the downtown area. It doesn't feel like a stroad at all, and the pedestrian and transit facilities, as well as the density make everything blend in. As soon as one crosses the Yellow Line tracks, the zoning goes back to mostly R2 (there are some bit of CX and R4 near downtown still), with some B2 areas along Oakton Street. This is, once again, another stroad. The density does not make sense to be along this road, which is what makes it a stroad in the first place. The only good part of this is that plenty of single-family residences are within walking distance. I watched a kid no older than 14 run across four lanes of traffic to catch the 97. That is not safe!

Finally, we crossed into Evanston, the road narrowed, and my On Zoning jurisdiction for this post ended. Note that in this post, I did not ride either the 210 or 215 on Pace. The 210 does cut through the downtown area a bit, but is primarily outside of Skokie limits, and the 215 mainly runs through an R2 single-family area.

Final verdict - Narrow Oakton Street or upzone the area around it! The existing density does not make sense along a key part of the 97. The rest of the 97 has multi-family housing and mixed-use developments right around it. I was pleasantly surprised by the density of the downtown area, and the transit access to it is really good, and is something that can easily be replicated in other areas. Along the better part of the 97 (from Oakton to Dempster), it's really good that multi-family housing is concentrated near transit. These are the only multi-family areas in the village as well.

Posted: Feb 3, 2023 21:35


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