It’s now harder to get that garage-top deck approved


Burns-Beyerl-ArchitectsDecks atop garages were once essentially a given in every single-family home from Old Town to Lakeview on the market for upward of $1 million.

Most buyers expect the decks, which help increase the living space on tight city lots, says Dennis Dooley, vice president and managing broker at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices KoenigRubloff Realty Group, based in Lincoln Park.

But thanks to a new interpretations of zoning codes, some architects are saying it’s nearly impossible to build them in a timely, cost-effective manner.

The zoning code enforcement was put into effect last summer with little fanfare. “I had five jobs in process at the time,” says Bob Grela, a former zoning plan examiner for Chicago’s zoning bureau, former architectural plan examiner for the Department of Buildings and former chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals in Burr Ridge. Grela is now principal at R.A. Grela & Associates, which secures zoning permits.

“At 2:30 in the afternoon (one day in June), the deputy zoning administrator told his staff they were incorrectly enforcing the zoning and that they were no longer able to approve the rooftop decks with the stairs. I said, ‘You just approved one for me.’ We just approved one that morning.”

Grela’s five that were in the review process? They went back to square one, a months-long, expensive process instead of the quick, relatively easy procedure it had been.

Before the change went into effect, a permit to add or to build a garage-top deck was “probably one of the less arduous and simpler permits to obtain,” Grela says. “It was like a fence permit or a fence repair. It was that easy.”

Because many developers tie rooftop deck applications in with other projects and submit the plans as one, it’s difficult to tally how many deck projects were approved before the changes were made, says Mimi Simon, spokeswoman for the Buildings Department.

Now, residents and developers who want a garage-top deck have a choice. If they can show that more than half of the properties on the street already have identically sized roof decks, they can file what is called an administrative adjustment, reducing the time and their expenses with regard to the paperwork. If not, they must commit to a process that stretches to about nine months.

The majority of the time, that means hiring a zoning lawyer, paying expediter and permit fees, and providing drawings and an updated survey at a cost of about $12,000, says Adam Miller, principal at Chicago Roof Deck & Gardens, which is sandwiched between Bucktown and Lincoln Park.

The city says it’s only trying to take proper precautions, says Peter Strazzabosco, deputy commissioner for the Chicago Department of Planning and Development. He said that as part of an audit of the department’s processes, external stairs and bridges to roof decks came under greater scrutiny.

“I’m not going to blanket say that they’re allowed or aren’t, but depending on the size and location, they need to be reviewed,” he says. “They are no longer just allowed as just a right.”

The zoning changes followed complaints from Old Town, Lincoln Park and Lakeview residents that raised decks and patios were destroying the feel of their neighborhoods.

The full story at Crain’s website]