Construction Law

Overcoming Challenging Zoning or Land Use Laws in Chicago featured image

Overcoming Challenging Zoning or Land Use Laws in Chicago

Construction companies cannot build new buildings where they want to. There are laws that prohibit where buildings can be built based on the type of land and what you will do with it. The restrictions are usually established by local governments through the use of zoning and land use laws. For a legal ally that can help you overcome challenging zoning or land use laws in Chicago, reach out to one of the Chicago construction lawyers from Cotney Attorneys & Consultants. 

Related: 4 Suggestions for Selecting a Construction Lawyer

Land Use Laws

Land use laws are designed to protect specific resources, the environment, and the people that live in an area from harm. Everyone depends on natural and man-made resources that exist near where they live. If a company is allowed to move in and damage those resources, it could hurt all of the people living in that area. For example, a company building a toxic waste-producing facility right next to the area’s only freshwater source could lead to problems with contaminated drinking water. Likewise, building a coal power plant in the middle of a city can have a drastic effect on air quality and lead to a lot of medical conditions. 

Land use laws also address security concerns. Building key resources, like power plants and military bases, requires a level of security from natural disasters and man-made threats. Land use laws restrict the building of specific facilities in areas where they can do more harm than good if they are compromised in some way. The most general method that land use laws use to restrict building in the wrong area is zoning. 


Zoning is a process where areas of land are designated for a specific type of construction. There are three general zoning types: commercial, residential, and industrial. Each of these zone types has several subtypes included in them to further segment them into usable areas. Zones are established by municipal governments that engage in city planning and environmental protection practices. 

Zones are assigned based on the best use of different areas as well as their relation to the other zones. For example:

  • Residential zones are usually placed between industrial and commercial zones. That way, it is easy for people to get to work. 
  • Commercial zones are usually placed near residential zones so that people can get the resources that they need for everyday living. 
  • Industrial zones are usually placed further away from the other zones and closest to natural resources. This is because industrial zones typically have the highest amount of pollution and the lowest land desirability scores. 

This process can vary more based on who is doing the city planning and the available areas. Zones almost never overlap unless the laws in an area allow for free or mixed zoning. 

Related: An Introduction to Inclusionary Zoning

Updating Zoning

Area zoning can change over time, and that can cause some zoning issues. In many places, zoning is changed when buildings are rebuilt or repurposed, but the current buildings are usually left alone if they are occupied. This can create a mixed zoning area, which can be problematic for construction companies. You could find industrial zones in tight proximity to other zones, which is not ideal for construction. It may also limit the types of buildings that you can put in those zones. 

This is a problem throughout Chicago, as many parts of the city are being rezoned. Construction companies across the city are working hard to adapt to these changes so that they can continue to rebuild parts of the city according to the city-wide improvement initiatives. If you have any questions about the limits of what you can build in a particular zone, an attorney from our Chicago construction law firm can help you decipher the zoning issues. 

Fighting Zoning Laws

Under the current zoning laws, there is an assumption that the zone designation that the state or city applies is accurate. However, it’s possible to argue that in court and have the zoning changed. Some people have tried with mixed success. In most cases, people sue to stop an area from being rezoned. The burden is on the person that wants to stop the rezoning, and the burden is high. This person would have to show that rezoning the land would hurt them and/or everyone around them in a substantial way and that the rezoning could heavily damage natural resources in the area. Most cases fail to meet any of these requirements. If your company is worried about a project because of zoning issues, know that it is rare for a zoning case to meet the general requirements and shut down projects because of zoning issues. 

Infrastructure Improvements

If you want to be sure that your project will be approved, then focus on adding infrastructure improvements. Planning boards want to approve projects that help improve the community. If you can add basic infrastructure improvements to your project, then you have a higher chance of being approved. These improvements could be things like adding community roads, improving the overall look of an area, or enhancing the utility systems for that area. Generally speaking, these are things that the government would normally have to do, and having help getting them done from private companies can go a long way toward helping your case. 

However, improvements do not have to be solely for the community. For example, adding another housing community onto a two-lane road can create traffic problems. Modifying that road so that it becomes a four-lane road for much of its stretch can prevent those traffic issues. Furthermore, it can relieve traffic issues in other areas, which the government will take into account when reviewing the project. Anything that benefits the community can be a big help in getting your project approved. Chicago construction attorneys can help you develop the documentation for your project, showing how it will benefit the community as a whole rather than just a small segment. 

Discussing your zoning issues with a Chicago contractor attorney may be in your best interest since there are many ways that your issue can be resolved. With careful planning, many zoning issues can be resolved or avoided from the start. If you have questions about zoning laws and how they affect your construction projects in Chicago, contact one of the Chicago construction lawyers from Cotney Attorneys & Consultants as soon as possible. 

If you would like to speak with one of our Chicago construction lawyers, please contact us today.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.