Wednesday, August 4, 2010

B2-2 Zoning and Live/Work Space in Chicago

Melissa Stanley
ArtHouse Chicago Real Estate Services

As a real estate agent I might see studio and live/work space in a different light than most artists.  I am more interested in it as a housing and development issue.  I believe strongly that promoting housing for artists is the quickest and most beneficial way to revitalize a community.  I also strongly support artists owning property so they will not be displaced by the improvements they helped to create.

In the last few months I have been working with Alderman Rey Colon to try and re-zone a small strip of Milwaukee Ave as B2.   The portion of Milwaukee on the north end of Alderman Colon’s ward is struggling and many of the store fronts are vacant.   I see the zoning change as a chance to re-energize that area.  Allowing live/work space at street level will make the area more attractive to small business and artists.  This strip is has the added advantage of being in a TIF zone with SBIF grant money available to build out the spaces.  You can check out my blog to see how the process moves forward, my goal is to create a road map for B2 zoning changes in other wards.

More on the B2 zoning:
The City of Chicago created the B2 live/work zoning a few years ago.  It was supposed to allow for live/work space on any floor so that artists could have access to more versatile and practical space.  It seems to have had an added benefit to developers as it allowed them to build larger buildings on commercial and business streets with no setbacks on the front or side of the buildings.   I don’t think the zoning has been very well-utilized by most property owners.  Many artists have been living in storefronts and mixed-use spaces for years and either they or their landlords don’t seem to see a value in making a zoning change.   In its current fashion I am not sure I see much value either.   I was reading this blog about live/work space in California and a light flashed in my head.   The best way to encourage the use of live/work space and the B2 zoning would be to allow the properties to be considered residential for the purpose of real estate taxes and mortgage loans.   If artists could qualify for FHA financing and artists or their landlords could reduce the tax burden on the property by converting storefronts to live/work space, then I think you would see a large increase in use of B2 zoning.  This has already happened in some condo buildings that are zoned B2 (I only know of a handful of these), most of those owners have been able to get residential loans and residential property tax rates (which can be 3-5 times lower than commercial rates) for their live/work condos.  I would like to see that model extended to storefronts and one-story buildings that are being used at least 50/50 for live and work.  

Is this possible?  I actually think lenders will be easier to convince than the City.  The City would have to give up on some very necessary tax revenue at least in the short term and it would add a new layer of verification for city inspectors.  This is a vision I am willing to work on for the future.  I just need to find a good Alderman and several artists to join me.

Please join me on August 17th from 4 to 5:30pm for a Salon on SBIF funding and how tenants and building owners can receive matching grants to make improvements to commercial spaces, at Multilingual Chicago, 2934 N. Milwaukee.

Melissa Stanley opened her own real estate brokerage, Niche Realty, in 2007. In 2010 she decided to find her own unique niche and created ArtHouseChicago. This was a chance for Ms. Stanley to combine her love of architecture, real estate and art together. Melissa grew up in an art loving family. Her mother lived in Manhattan in the 1960’s working as an abstract painter, she stopped painting to raise a family, but is painting again. Her father is an art historian focusing on architecture and design. Ms. Stanley graduated from Alfred University with a BFA before moving to Italy for a year and then on to Chicago. Melissa worked for ten years as a property manager before moving to real estate in 2001. Ms. Stanley is a regular presenter at the Chicago Artist Expo and has worked with several artists and art organizations helping them find or sell the unique spaces they need as artists.

1 comment:

  1. I stumbled upon the Studio Chicago blog this afternoon while I was searching for live-work arrangements in Chicago. Your analysis of the situation was very thoughtful, and as an artist (musician) who's been frustrated by the difficulty of finding affordable spaces in the city, and by the indifference and hostility of many landlords toward DIY music and art spaces that aren't in blighted neighborhoods, it was great to see someone articulate this position in such a strong way.

    I have to admit that I don't have much in the way of resources to put toward developing such a space, but like many, I find just being in a nontraditional space invigorating, and I'm obviously intrigued by the possibility of finding some kind of grants to make improvements. So I guess I'm writing to see if you can share any resources to actually find available live-work spaces. Part of the problem for me has been finding accurate zoning information, especially for more industrial, less storefront-oriented spaces. So how can I find what's available in terms of these spaces?