Archive for September, 2009

The whole thing, including travel time, took less than an hour and a half.  The appointment with the Dept. of Buildings, right next to the Dept. of Zoning at City Hall, was made a week in advance by the expeditor: no muss, no fuss.  Project Manager L asked a few questions about the self-certified project, made sure the Intern Architect had pertinent info on plans and forms, and asked him to send a letter to the neighbor and alderman (via certified mail) indicating excavation work within 5′ of the property line.  This requirement was news to both expeditor and Intern, it was thought the letter was only required with work within 5′ of the adjacent building (which was not the case with this project).  Did the code change?  No, the interpretation of the code changed.  No problem, now its on the books, assumed to be universally accepted among all Project Managers.

Interpretations of codes do change, even codes themselves change.  In fact, that’s how codes are kept relevant, and objective.  They remain adaptable to unseen conditions.  But they are not to be subjectively interpreted on a case by case basis with no change or update to the code itself.  That would be an abuse of discretion, a take-the-law-into-your-own-hands kind of situation, like in Dirty Harry.

Maybe that’s how Mr. G sees himself, the lone rebel administrator of zoning and land use planning justice, and not the trusted civic employee, as we see him.  Here’s a scene that wasn’t in the movie:  Mr. G passes the expeditor in the waiting area after the architect acquiesces in a meeting with stoic Zoning administrators.  He’s got a rare smirk on his face and says, “I had a meeting with your client this afternoon.”  “Oh? How’d it go?” asks the expeditor.  “You’ll have to ask your client,” smile full blown:  justice dealt, personal vendetta achieved, our hero vindicated!

It’s worth saying again: the Intern took the train in the morning for a scheduled DoB appointment, had a professional meeting with PM L, and then took the train home for the price of a transfer (’cause it only took about forty-five minutes!).


Read Full Post »

Divine intervention.

The architect of record leaves city hall, having just come from a meeting with (2) zoning administrators, going to bat for the client and the Intern.  He has (3) sets of drawings stamped with zoning approval, but is filled with mixed emotions.  His cosmic understanding of Zoning is incomplete, same goes for the rest of us.  In an attempt to achieve balance, we had to consult the oracle.  The oracle says:

If you lose your keys, you might put yourself in their place and ask, where would I be?  Then you might be able to find your keys through a sequential path of logic, or you might just stumble across them by dumb luck.  Both result in a found set of keys, but only one path demonstrates that something is at work here beyond your understanding, a higher order.  Since there appears to be no sequence of logic here, it fits that Zoning exhibits not simply a higher degree but an altogether different level of complexity.  Some might call it divine.

Thank you, oracle.  Balance has been restored!  A separation of church and state?  It’s just not possible.  That’s like trying to take the white out of rice.

Read Full Post »


Here at Chicago’s long-overdue Dept. of Zoning Oversight Fellowship Forum…

Read Full Post »

After winning a new pair of nice Italian leather business casuals in an office coin toss, the Intern Architect finds himself back at the gates of Zoning, a renewed sense of purpose.  The project is a small addition to a legal brick 2-flat that is voluntarily converting to a single family home.  All parties agree (the architects and expeditors have teamed up), they cross their fingers and say, this one looks pretty clear cut, we should not have a problem.

The owner currently lives in both units with an old cat, an older dog, a couple turtles and a snake(?).  The addition would take the place of a back porch and stair for the two units and would include a stair from the first floor to grade, but not from the 1st to the 2nd floor.  He would like to forgo the back stair to 2nd floor, which is not required in a single family home.

An email from the expediters had warned that Zoning supervisor Mr. G had gotten his hands on this one and was asking for the walls of the front foyer and enclosed stair to be removed to insure its single family use, citing a general zoning “policy”, but not a specific ordinance which the proposed work would violate.  Everyone involved believes this is because there is no such violation, just a general paranoia on Mr. G’s part, an unfounded suspicion of ill-intent.

Meeting in the lobby, the expeditor seems out of breath, at his wits end.  He arrived at 5am, got the 3rd spot in line, and then a meeting at 9am with plan examiner E. and Mr. G, where he struggled to bring reason to the vague assertion of tear down these walls, just because… Based on this meeting, the Intern Architect (representing the architect, with proper papers in tow) is able to meet with the man to seek clarification.  Mr. G could not be more inarticulate with his clarification.  He asks why the work couldn’t be done, scoffs at added expense, grumbles responses, averts eyes, avoids specifics, questions credentials, says I don’t want to talk to you, and is about to walk away when the Intern uses the only venue of accountability available to him.  He asks for an official rejection letter, which states the specific ordinances on which the project was rejected.  Mr. G. grabs the plans and heads to back to follow pesky protocol.

An hour later, the plans re-emerge with a rejection letter that states: “the Zoning Dept. interprets this as a separate dwelling unit…”, listing a number of erroneous reasons why this is to be considered a two-flat (citing a glossary as one of the violated ordinances).  There seem to be other agendas at work here, besides those listed among the city ordinances, the only official zoning “policy”.  The intern can only think, I wore my new shoes for this.

Read Full Post »