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Everything You Need to Know About Chicago Plan Reviews

Commercial, major, residential, and structural development projects within the limits of Chicago have numerous plan reviews according to the City of Chicago Department of Buildings (DOB). All the plan reviews are meant to speed up the construction projects of varying complexities and scopes, providing efficient services to the construction and design teams.

For the year 2017, the DOB has three plan reviews – Developer Services Program, Standard Plan Review, and the Easy Permit Process. Last year DOB introduced a new plan review for major or complex developments, known as Direct Developer Services

Developer Services Program

Developer Services Program is mainly for meeting the requirements of projects that are complex. These plan reviews are mandatory if the building is more than 80 feet tall, if businesses use space greater than 150,000 square feet, and if schools use over 60,000 square feet. The City of Chicago assigns a third party reviewer to go through the construction plans of developers. The negotiation of the entire process takes place between the developer and the project administrator at the DOB.

Although the project administrator opens the door for plan reviews, only a third party firm has the right to review the building plan.

Developer Services Program is also applicable to the following projects:

  • Gut rehab projects that have a minimum of 50 units or more
  • Projects whose basement is at least two levels or deeper

Direct Developer Services

Direct Developer Services is for projects that are complex or large-scale. Under this type of plan review, there is a bidding process through which the project team has the opportunity to choose the third-party reviewer. After the selection of the consultant, the plan review and negotiation of other approvals take place among the DOB, project administrator, and the project team.

Easy Permit Process

Easy Permit Process or EPP is for projects that are commercial or straightforward residential projects. Replacement of windows, doors, and electrical work are common projects that fall under the Easy Permit Process. These review plans also include the following:

  • Electrical work
  • Fences
  • Gas furnaces replacement
  • Masonry work
  • Porches
  • Prevailing plumbing fixtures replacement
  • Replacement of drywalls for more than 1,000 square feet
  • Replacement of windows and doors
  • Scaffolding

Replacement of hot water heaters, replacement of doors and windows, construction of garages with wooden frames, replacement of the residential furnace, fence installation, tuck pointing and electrical work plans can be submitted online. However, any other type of project that doesn’t fall into these categories requires personal submission at the DOB. The plans must include all the necessary forms, the scope of work of the project and the licensed contractors carrying out the work.

Standard Plan Review

The vast majority of residential and commercial projects fall under the Standard Plan Review or SPR. Standard Plan Review includes excavation, tenant finish, alteration of the interior, and new construction projects.

The following projects also fall under the Standard Plan Review:

  • Commercial constructions below 80 feet
  • Exterior and interior alterations
  • Mercantile and business projects, not more than 150,000 square feet
  • New projects
  • Residential high-rises lesser than 80 feet
  • Programs of self-certification and small projects

For the review process, the project team has to provide the City of Chicago with electronic architectural

plans for review. According to the scope of work of the project, the electronic architectural plan may have to go through 13 reviews.

Before submitting the plan for approval to the DOB, the Chicago Department of Planning and Development must give zoning approval. Sometimes the Chicago Department of Transportation also has to give approval as an external reviewer.

After the submission of the electronic architectural plan, a project manager will be assigned to review the plan and issue the necessary permits. Throughout the entire review process, the project manager acts as the only point of contact between the project team and the DOB.

Chicago’s Stance on Residential High-Rise Sprinklers

The year 2017, so far, has seen a lot of fires in residential high-rise buildings all around the world. On June 14th, 2017, the Grenfell Tower in West London caught fire, leading to the death of 80 unfortunate souls. More than 70 people were injured. On July 15th, 2017, another fire broke out in the residential high-rise Marco Polo apartments, leaving three dead in its wake. On August 3rd, 2017, the Torch Tower in Dubai was on fire. Luckily, due to the fire exits which were free of smoke, all the residents of this high-rise building were able to escape unscathed.

Due to the breakout of fires in residential high-rise buildings, fire safety code requirements in Chicago, especially the sprinkler systems, requires more attention. If the Marco Polo apartments had automatic sprinkler systems, it would have been a completely different story. The fire wouldn’t have been able to damage the building. On top of that, the automatic sprinkler system could have averted the loss of those three lives.

On October 17th, 2003, there was a fire in Cook County Administration Building, which took the lives of six people. The building didn’t have to adhere to the Chicago Municipal Code that every floor in commercial high-rise buildings constructed post-1975 should have sprinkler systems in place, as its construction took place before 1975.

To tackle this issue as quickly as possible, in November 2003, Chicago’s City Council passed an ordinance which made it mandatory for buildings constructed before 1975 to follow the latest standards for fire safety. The City Council made the new ordinance a part of the minimum requirements for all old buildings.

According to the new ordinance, all commercial buildings that are more than 80 feet should have automatic sprinkler systems on every floor. However, owners of older buildings had time until 1st September 2005 to add automatic sprinkler systems to the building plan. The ordinance also gave them time till January 1st, 2017, to completely install the automatic sprinkler systems. However, the building owners had to install them in thirds till the date of completion.

Exemptions from the residential high-rise sprinkler systems

Although the Chicago City Council is strict about the building fire and safety codes, there are the following exemptions for the requirements of sprinkler systems:

  • Stadiums and parking facilities that are open-air
  • Any residential buildings that are non-transient such as condos, dormitories, hotels, condominiums, and rental apartments
  • Historic buildings and landmarks of Chicago

Introduction of Life Safety Evaluation

However, due to the high cost of automatic sprinkler systems, the government introduced Life Safety Evaluation for older buildings. Only if the older buildings got more than the minimum score in the Life Safety Evaluation test will they be exempted from installing automatic sprinkler systems. The checklist for the test focuses on various measures for fire safety such as different methods to escape, communication systems with residents during a fire, and the ability of the building to contain and fight a fire to name a few.

Only a licensed architect has the rights to conduct the Life Safety Evaluation test for older buildings. Buildings that had a score above the minimum requirement had to submit the building plan by 1st January 2006 to complete the certification.

If buildings were unable to reach the minimum score requirement in the Life Safety Evaluation, the owners had to install automatic sprinkler systems. However, if they were able to submit building plans by 1st January 2015, that could pass the test by getting the minimum score; they didn’t have to install the sprinkler systems. The building owners also have to notify the residents about the Life Safety Evaluation score.

If there are any violations to the Life Safety Evaluation and automatic sprinkler systems, building owners will have to pay hefty fines every day.

Solutions And Strategies For Resilient And Walkable Cities- The Power Of Three

The United States is juggling to maintain the demands of urban lifestyle while ensuring that the historic character of the city is protected, there are walkable neighborhoods, future is resilient and sustainable, and easy access to transportation is offered to the citizens.

Resilience is defined as the potential of the individuals, institutions, communities, systems within the city and businesses to carry on unaffected by acute shocks or chronic stress.

Cities Are Closing On To Their Tipping Point

In the global scenario, cities are growing at an alarming rate. Population is projected to increase by 2.5 billion people by 2050. Going by this prediction, it is safe to assume that as the century reaches the halfway point; over 9 billion people will be living in an urban setting.

Gearing up to meet such rising demands, science and technology is relentlessly working on developing smart technology to face the influx of urbanization consequences. Technology market is predicted to reach US$1.3 trillion by the end of 2020.

On the flip-side, cities are close to their tipping point than they were to their establishment. Demographic challenges rise with the advent of technology and are closely linked to the population boom. Pressure on natural resources is reaching the red zone and demography is forced to squeeze into inadequate establishment of social welfare and infrastructure. To sum it up: with greater opportunity, comes greater risk.

Power Of Three For Resilience And Walkable Cities

Approach to growth must be shifted towards inclusion as opposed to personalization. There must be enough power generated to run the machine hand-in-hand by the private and public sector. A city’s future now rests solely on how well the government, business and entrepreneurs form an alliance to adapt, survive and grow. The triumvirate (government, businesses and entrepreneurs) are key elements of change through the development of novel technology and solutions, implementation of new policies and creating business models for industries and businesses.

Since technology cannot be viewed as the universal solution for every problem, the power of three is a model where all three participants have several considerations like:

Businesses:

Any investment must be scaled according the ratio of collaboration between private-public partnerships of through the development of municipality partnerships. These alliances must divide risk sharing structures and incentive schemes with a mutual payoff.

Government:

Governments must dedicate resources towards the development of organizational structures supported by tools which help in making smart decisions, big data, policy exclusion and technology inclusion. Governments must also take time out to invest in right tools and talent capable of adapting to the evolving needs.

Entrepreneurs:

Entrepreneurs must re-imagine the working system in an urban setting as emerging data provides the right spring board to launch micro-establishments and independent businesses. Consider the likely evolution of sharing economies and the opportunities it promises- production of resilient services and products. Entrepreneurs are presented with once in a life time opportunity to cash-in on the business potential brought about by changing times. They can provide solutions on how to approach and meet the growing public demands.

In conclusion, a long term solution will be met only when the three forces put welfare of the citizens in the center. After all, a growth of the city cannot be measured without the citizens. Solutions will be successful only when citizens feel comfortable and connected with the city through digital delivery, infrastructure, social and physical interaction and lastly social engagement. In the US such initiatives include moving towards alternative energy sources, creation of adaptable communities and resource pool to serve during the period of need.

Preservation Drive Of Architectural Landmarks Across US

Landmarks- the term was coined as an aftermath of the demolition of the Penn Station in 1963. The grandiose pink marble structure designed by McKim, Mead and White was marked for demolition to be replaced by a modern station, office buildings and Maddison Square Garden. Leading the protest against demolition were prominent members of the architectural community like Philip Jackson, Jane Jacobs (notable urban advocate) and Aline Saarinen (art critic and late wife of Eero Saarinen). Voices of opposition were muted by the wrecking ball which drove the once glorious structure to heaps of dust. This act of demolition led to the setup of New York City Landmark Law.

Eastern US And New York Metro Area

Age and historic significance of the buildings in Eastern U. S and New York Metro area poses a big challenge. Organizations which are involved in protection focus on saving the buildings which pose an immediate risk and advocate for Historic Protection Easements. An easement is an agreement made between the owner of the building and an outside agency to protect buildings in perpetuity in the event of owner change. There are preservation organizations which also respect these agreements apart from routine advocacy efforts.

New Jersey

An annual list of endangered structures is released by Preservation New Jersey (PNJ). In the list of 2017, buildings like King George Inn, Warren N.J, an invaluable architectural gem in the state. Constructed in 1785, the Inn received timely additions and extensions. Hurricane Irene of 2011, inflicted major damages to the structure and was labeled hopeless by the owner. However, the community members of PNJ are in a fight against the owner to save the building by stabilizing and restoration as opposed to demolition and replacement.  Other structures on the list are Caldwell Motor Bank and Exempt Fire House in West New York. Solution offered by PNJ is re-purposing obsolete structures, rehabilitating structures like King George’s Inn, and preservation of debilitating buildings like Mincemeat Factory in Chesterfield N.J.

Los Angeles

LA has a conservancy dedicated to the provide owners of historic properties with resources and legal aid to threatened establishments. Also, a new responsibility honed by the Conservancy is to raise awareness and attempt litigation efforts. First in the list of endangered buildings is Jones Dog & Cat Hospital located at 9080 Santa Monica Boulevard. Preservation drives for this building are ardent because it is the only remaining commercial example Streamline Moderne Style, popular back in 1938. An organization involved in conservation has voiced out that this building is the only remaining example of the mentioned style of architecture and is marked for demolition to be replaced by mixed used development. Although, the Conservancy makes it clear that it is not against the development, it requests the committee to reconsider the benefits of retaining the structure. If the developer chooses to ignore preservation angle of the building, the plan for construction is not environmentally sound. Apart from Jones Dog & Cat Hospital, the Conservancy is actively looking out for preservation of modern and mid-century architecture like Chase Bank/Lytton Savings Building located at 8150 Sunset Boulevard.

New York City

New York has an exclusive governing body called the New York City Landmarks Conservancy which maintains a log of threatened buildings since 2000. Also, there is the Endangered Buildings Initiative dedicated to monitor buildings lest they deteriorate and are marked for demolition. A few of the listed sites include Bullevue Psychiatric Hospital located at 94-96 Greenwich Street, a building from the Federal era, constructed in 1798 and Officer’s Row, an iconic building in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Restoration and protection of endangered buildings are important in preserving embodied energy. Growth in developed areas is encouraged by rehabilitating and reusing buildings.

Is Chicago Warming Up To Sustainable Efficiency In Response To Retrofit Chicago Energy Challenge?

Retrofit Chicago program is a component of the city’s inter-sector efforts towards improvement in energy performance in the area of commercial, municipal, residential and institutional buildings. All participants who pledge to the Retrofit Chicago Energy challenge commit to abide by:

  • Cut down energy usage by a minimum of 20% within the first 5 years of enrolling into the program
  • Play the role as an ambassador for other buildings which wish to take up such an initiative.
  • Sharing and tracking energy efficient developments via the Energy Star portfolio management

As a result of the widespread acceptance of this program, buildings across the city are turning to increasing value of the asset, bringing down cost of production, increasing local job market and cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions.

The current statistics stands at 76 participants covering over 51.3 million square feet, inching closer to the goal of 80 participants

Leading By Example

The Rookery Building

One of the oldest members in the Jewel of Chicago’s skyline is the Rookery building. Standing tall at 209 South LaSalle Street, Rookery Building has been a participating member since 2013. Designed by the celebrated architect Daniel Burnham and John Root in 1888, the design of the lobby was envisioned by Frank Lloyd Wright and covers over 300,000 square feet, this building is historically significant. Rookery building is situated in the heart of Chicago’s financial district.

Being as old as it is, Rookery Building has had its share of retro-commissioning via the ComEd’s program. The engineering team decided to take it up to the next level by modifying the cooling and heating intake system to improve efficiency. These tweaks lead to a reduction in energy cost by 24 percent. Such a steep reduction and improvement in energy efficiency puts Rookery Building in the coveted Leadership Circle.

AT&T Building

Communication Mughals, AT&T has sided with Retrofit energy Challenge in Chicago. Constructed in 1968, the operations office of AT&T covers overs 100,000 square feet housing 30 stories of office spaces. Located at 225 W Randolf Street, the former Illinois Bell, has been occupied by AT&T since completion of construction. An initial saving initiative led to the application of films and improvement in the efficiency of the water system, back in 2011. Further efficiency in energy was achieved when the Corporate Real Estate team identified all the interior lighting and changed them to the latest energy saving standard. Also, older irreplaceable technology was modified to improve energy efficiency.

A key component which transformed the building was the installation of motion sensitive light. These lights save energy by remaining dim throughout the day and brightening post-dusk when it detects foot traffic. Such a small change increased energy savings by 60-65 percent. Also, the air conditioning system is programmed in such a way that it is turned on only when the employee’s presence is detected and automatically shuts off when the office closes. AT&T excelled and exceeded the goals of the Challenge in 2016 and is now the member of the Mayor’s Leadership Circle to provide motivation and feedback to other participating members.

Other buildings and facilities which are close to reaching the target are the Inland Steel Building at 23% energy expenditure reduction, Fifth Third Center by 21%, and finally the School of Arts Institute Chicago by 33%.

Back in 2014, the Retrofit Energy Challenge was awarded the Inspiring Efficiency Impact Award by the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance. Such recognitions attract other buildings within the city and throughout Midwest to participate in energy efficiency challenges. Chicago leads the way towards sustainable, energy-efficient architecture.

Chicago To Align Itself With 2017 National Electrical Code

Chicago is setting the example for all big cities in the United States of America, as it is one of the first major cities to adopt the 2017 National Electrical Code. The latest standards of the 2017 National Electrical Code focuses on savings, safety, and sustainability for all the residents of America.

On September 6th, 2017, the City Council of Chicago made a huge decision by voting to adopt the latest standards of the 2017 National Electrical Code. The latest electrical code will make sure that industries in Chicago have higher energy efficiency, refine safety requirements, and lower the energy bills for businesses and residents.

As the city of Chicago is world-class standards and growing economy, it attracts businesses and talents alike. The Mayor of the city, Rahm Emanuel understands the importance of the city. He wants the city to be built for the future so that it lasts for countless generations. As a result of this train of thought, he adopted the 2017 National Electrical Code so that the current building codes get updated to focus on energy efficiency and sustainability.

During the Council City’s meeting in July, the Department of Buildings and Rahm Emanuel brought forward the ordinance for approval. Rahm Emanuel had reinstated the Chicago Electrical Commission in 2015, were the ones behind the recommendation to bring Chicago’s existing building codes up-to-date.

Remarkable Improvement

Thanks to their initiative, Chicago’s building codes will now be on the verge of being in par with the national standards of the country. The following areas will see significant improvement, due to the National Electrical Code:

  • The cost of renovation construction in non-residential and residential rehabilitation will reduce as flexible metal conduit will be used extensively.
  • The lighting design loads can reduce up to 83% because of the latest lighting calculation technologies and methods. As a result of this, electrical usage and installation cost of the electrical fittings will come down significantly in commercial and residential buildings.
  • Installation of solar energy and other types of renewable energy will be up-to-date with the latest industry standards.
  • Newly constructed buildings will have to follow the latest requirements for carbon dioxide and smoke detectors.
  • Health care facilities will receive additional provisions for improved safety and technology.

The 2017 National Electrical Code has 156 articles, which the Chicago building codes have to adopt. Out of those 156 articles, about half of them will be adopted by the city without making any local amendments. On the plus side, the remaining codes will also be adopted by Chicago, after making minor local changes to them.

Out of all the changes made to the amendments, the city of Chicago retained codes that focus on improving electrical safety in buildings and industries. Chicago is going to make sure that everyone in the city follows its strict requirements for emergency generators, emergency lighting, and usage of metal conduit to reduce costs and enhance electrical safety.

A City For The Future

According to Judy Frydland, the Building Commissioner of Chicago, the city had to reinstate Chicago’s Electrical Commission after a break of 14 years, so that they could study and understand how the Electrical Code of Chicago could be updated.

Thanks to the efforts of the Electrical Commission, the building industry will be able to save considerable amounts of money and time, due to ultra-modern technologies. These updated codes will make the life easier for those involved in inspections and permissions as it will reduce the time for these activities.

Since 2016, the Chicago Electrical Commission and city officials have been working together to see how they can adopt 2017 National Electrical Code. Their hard work made sure that Chicago will be a city for the future!

To give the building industry time to understand the NEC 2017, the ordinance will allow permit applications to proceed under the current electrical code or NEC 2017 until March 1, 2018 when the new ordinance will become effective.

History Has No Present Only The Past: Exploring Chicago’s Most Endangered Architectural Marvels

Chicago is known for its decorated skyline. The city which made high rise buildings stylish is home for the Willis Tower, Art Deco and Merchandize Mart. Chicago has been influential in the shaping of modern architecture. While the tall, well documented buildings get all the attention, there are gems which are left ignored to deteriorate. To highlight the plight of fading architectural masterpieces, every year the annual Preservation list of Chicago names historical buildings which are on the verge of becoming endangered structures. Some of the names are not just architectural marvels but are also a slice of public art. Preservation Chicago is an organization which brings to notice the forgotten buildings which are either stripped to make room for a steel mammoth or are left to deteriorate. The list of the current year focuses on the items from public works of art to early housing structures hoping that awareness may lead to saving.

  • Cornell Store and Flats: Landmarks Illinois has marked Cornell Store and Flats in the list of endangered buildings. Located on 1230-32 E, 75th Street, this old development of mixed use was built in 1908. Design wise, this building follows the Prairie School of thought and is often cited as a rare example for being a commercial project in the said style format. Cornell Store and Flats was designed by Walter Burley Griffin. Over the years, the building has started to fade away.
  • Altgeld Gardens: The low lung homes spread across the 157 acre site of Altgeld Gardens was constructed in 1913 and 1945 by Naess and Murphym firm. The public housing development is often referred to as the testament to design ideal and good model for public housing system. There are many homes in this garden which have witnessed their fair share of renovation, but other homes which are vacant are in shambles. The mothballed building is raising concerns of imminent demolition. Over the span of the last few years, according to the data from Preservation Chicago, there are 15 buildings which were demolished and 25 are slated for the same fate.
  • Jackson Park and South Shore Cultural Center: There are many changes approaching Jackson Park, a few of which are high profile, large investment opportunities. The commencement of redevelopment translates to consequential improvement in the community. But, redevelopment means deviating from the original design style of Fredrick Law Olmstead’s historic plan for Jackson Park. Also, the lack of information on the plans of redevelopment is raising concerns on the future of the park.
  • Chicago Water Cribs: The archaic water cribs which line the horizon of Lake Michigan may soon be wiped away. Two of the structures, according to Preservation Chicago- the Four Mile Crib erected in 1894 and Wilson Avenue Crib in 1915, make it to the list of this year’s endangered buildings. While these floating structures were seen as futuristic and marvelous designs when they were conceptualized, they still remain aesthetically unique to this day.
  • Union station Power House: It is a known fact that all activities of the Power House ceased after 2011 but the building still remains notable for many reasons. Firstly, the austere and stoic Art Modern Design from Graham, Anderson, Probst & White is an important chapter in the history of Chicago building. Also, during the building was a rail hub in the 20th The current owner of the building has various plans for its future and Preservation Chicago hints that demolition is one of them.

Other buildings which made it to list are Madison Pulaski Commercial District and Chicago’s 20th Century Public Sculpture.

Theater On The Lake Will Get A Much Awaited Face-Lift

Theater on the Lake offers the most breathtaking view of Lake Michigan. Post 1996, Chicago theater began hosting theater groups to showcase their best work from the previous year. Theater companies from all over the world are celebrated in the eight mainstage plays spaced over 8 weeks.

A rich History
Originally built as the Chicago Daily News Fresh Air Fund Sanitarium in 1920, the theater was preceded by two successful floating hospitals built on the pier in Lincoln Park. It was then believed that the breeze escaping through the wooden stills had the healing power to cure babies infected with tuberculosis. Funding for a more stable construction was made available in 1913 donated by Chicago Daily News which led to the erecting of Prairie styled impressive design from Dwighth H. Perkins from Perkins, Fellows and Hamilton firm. Apart from designing the theater, Perkins a strong social reformer, brought structures like Cafe Brauer, North Pond Cafe and Lion House in the Lincoln Park Zoo, to life.
Building of Chicago Daily News Fresh Air Sanitarium was constructed with brick and steel arched pavilion to accommodate 250 baby basket cribs, rooms for older children and nursery.
Till the summer of 1939, this establishment provided free lunch, milk and health services to over 30,000 children. Reconstruction drive on Lakes Shore Drive demolished the front entrance of the building. World War II named the space as the official center for recreation for USO (United Service Organization). Finally in 1953, Park District of Chicago converted this space as the Theater.

Blueprint of Modernization
Lakefront hospitality Group cut a decade long deal with Park District Board of Chicago to renovate, redesign and handle the theater, restaurant and event space. Lease also includes the right to operate concessions between Diversey Park and South of Fullerton.
Face of the building will remain untouched to maintain the open-air feel of the original structure. Design for restoration is by Kaufman & O’Niel and includes replacing screen sections with modern glass windows overlooking the river, new cement flooring with minute detailing with terracotta tiles and wrought iron details to the new bar. Main theater space will be retained for summer showcase while the adjacent spaces will be rented out for private events like weddings. New addition will be a casual fine dine restaurant. Outdoor patio seating and restrooms, open to the public, will also be added.
Inside the theater space, new lights, sound and dressing rooms will be added. Expansion of the theater was included in the $32 million shoreline restoration project for addition of special lanes for pedestrians and cyclists, replacement of seawall and 6 acers of parkland.

Terms of agreement
Investment from Lakefront Hospitality will be used partially towards rent payment to Park District and majorly towards rebuilding the building, itself. Post the termination of the 10 year lease, the company can exercise extensions for a year, a total of 5times.
Latest Update
Since May 2017, construction is going on in full swing. Regular programs are not set for release till 2018 but the patio will be open to the public from late summer.
CEO and Chicago Park District Superintendent, Michael Kelly said in the release that through the improvements to Theater on the lake there would be a dramatic heightening in the amazing production quality of such a unique performance space and the capacity to offer world class professional theater to eager patrons all year long from a single location was finally being made possible. The building in the past has been used as Halloween Haunted house. Theater performances moved out of the park, recently, into other neighborhood parks as a part of Night Out in the Parks program.

Need Of The Hour, Energy Efficient Buildings, The Better Building Initiative

Better Buildings is an initiative by the U.S Department of Energy aimed at improving every American life by spearheading energy innovation in homes, public and commercial buildings, and large industrial establishments. The initiative endears to foster partnerships between private and public sectors to develop and encourage innovative programs. Currently, there is greater concern regarding the elimination of programs than steps taken towards promotion of energy efficiency practices. It is now important to evaluate the progress made so far by the federal programs like Better Buildings Initiative.

Better Building Initiative staring at an unknown destiny

President Trump’s government has wasted no time in taking steps to halt the adoption of recent energy efficiency standards which were under development. Apart from putting the brakes on the implementation of energy standards, the new government has also cut down the budget allotted to energy efficiency gains like Energy Star program. Amid all the significant budget cuts, the future of Better Building Initiative seems shaky.

Better Building Initiative: What is it all about?

Better Building Initiative was started by Department of Energy (DOE) in 2011. Former President Obama demanded that government buildings be made more energy efficient. Commercial buildings handling government business were responsible for 20 percent of total energy consumption. All government buildings according to this scheme aimed at increasing the energy efficiency by 2020. By doing so, an estimated $40 billion would be saved by businesses. As a part of the Better Building Initiative was the Better Building Challenge which asked business heads to commit to the cause of making facilities more energy efficient and influence others in the sector to do the same.

Under the former president’s reign, buildings which adopted Better Building Initiative would enjoy incentives like deductions in tax and easy finance options for expansion. Under the initiative, grants would be distributed to local and state governments to update energy efficiency standards. Such a move would also encourage investments sourced from private enterprises.

The current presidential cabinet is moving towards cutting the budget of Better Building Initiative by 70 percent.

Chicago and Better Building Initiative

Looked upon as the leader in reforming public safety, security and public school initiative, Chicago is now offering affordable housing in economically attractive communities. By doing so, accessibility is now open for all; social, environmental, and economic sustenance is established.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that by increasing sustainability all throughout Chicago, the resultant economic opportunities created would increase the quality of life for all residents. Such an improvement is being undertaken in the form of recycling LEED buildings, paving designated bike lanes to energy efficiency. Climate Action Plan of Chicago demands reduction of greenhouse gasses by 25 percent by 2020 and 80% by 2050 (as compared to values in 1990). Chicago has been awarded the prestigious Siemens Sustainability Community Award in April 2012 by the U.S Chamber of Commerce Business Civic Leadership Center attracting multi-stakeholder approach towards the improvement of resource efficiency, quality of life of visitors and residents, and environment-stewardship.

The core of Chicago’s economic and environmental strategy is the energy efficiency of industrial and commercial buildings and residential units. Chicago has accepted the Better Buildings Challenge and is committed to sector specific efforts towards increasing energy efficiency by:

  • Challenging large commercial buildings to cut down the sum total energy consumption by 20%
  • Investing $200 million by private-public sector dedicated to making Chicago more energy efficient via Chicago Investment trust
  • Residential buildings are fostered by energy efficient zones. These efforts include an upgrade of appliances, weatherization and adopting energy saving practices.

Future of Better Building Initiative

Hopefully, this successful program will continue and achieve greater energy efficiency. For the first time, an initiative represented a strong private-public partnership.

Luxury Apartment Boom In Chicago

Any resident of Chicago will attest that the number of cranes working on residential projects is on the rise. Chicago is a part of the 12 city group in the U.S to exhibit a boom in condos and luxury apartments.

According to the Wall Street Journal, citing Crane Index (which is a biannual crane activity survey curated by Rider Levett Bucknall North America) as of November last year, Chicago had 56 construction cranes busy with residential buildings. Coming in second place is Seattle with 23 residential cranes, working currently. At third place is Denver with 10.

Millennials behind the boom in apartment construction

Looking at construction throughout the 12 cities, most of it was dedicated to residential development projects. Executive Vice President of RLB, Paul Brussow said that there has been a big increase mostly in the residential market. Frequent sightings of cranes are a definite sign of growing demand for luxury rental properties. Fueling the boom in residential development are millennials born after 1980. Given the nature of their work and delays set off by recession, more and more people are focusing towards owning an apartment or condo as against a home. Millennials do not have the savings or job security to invest in a home. Construction has begun on 386,000 new apartments in 2015, the highest ever recorded number in the U.S since 1987. Of which, 35% were solely apartments, again a record high since 1973, according to census data. Definition of an apartment is a housing unit containing five or more units.

Thousands of apartments slated for 2017 delivery

Boom in apartment construction has continued in 2017 with expected delivery of thousands of new units. As explained above, the city has a high demand for apartments and according to Luxury Living Chicago Realty, 33 new buildings offering 6,600 units will be delivered by the end of 2017.

Delivering such a high number is not new for realty developers in Chicago. Thousands of units were also delivered in 2015-16. Number demand for 2017 is the highest ever to be successfully delivered by the city’s developers. As Chicago’s skyline awaits new additions, behind downtown a large number of transit-oriented developments are under construction along Milwaukee Avenue.

Apart from apartment complexes, there are 44 other major high rises: new hotels, office spaces and upscale condos. Such a boom is giving rise to doubts of oversupply which could lead to a possible break in pace.

Current rental options in Chicago suburbs

Until a decade ago, suburbs were the residential choice of exclusive few who had resources to spare. Now, not so much! Residing in the suburbs has become more affordable. There are more options available. Over 3000 units went up last year alone which is twice as much since 1997. Till recently only condos were favored. After the postbust trend of renting over buying, everything changed especially in suburbs where apartments are fewer. Rent got so high that construction of new apartments started to look cheaper. To match the high demand, developers are constructing apartments with plush amenities just to stick to the tag of luxury. Examples of a few amenities offered are movie theaters, pet-washing stations, and golf simulators, walking trails, clubhouses and high-speed internet.

Chicago Boom to fizzle or not?

Will construction reach saturation post-delivery? Only time will tell. Trends suggest that it is highly likely that the boom will fizzle with rents falling by 14.7% in the fourth quarter. New apartment rents have been unaffected with developer’s adamant on sticking to asking price. Deals like free rent for a few months with every lease sign may become common practice to attract renters.