FitzGerald Wins Zoning Approvals with Tenacity and Strategy

FitzGerald has significant experience with the zoning approval process in Chicago and the suburbs, and we maintain strong working relationships with the most prominent zoning attorneys in the Chicagoland area as well as many of the area’s leading developers. In this month’s feature, we delve deeper into that process, with observations from our experts as well as attorneys and clients with whom we work closely.
“FitzGerald backs its considerable zoning experience with hard work and political awareness,” says Robert King, president of Carroll Properties. “The architects’ comprehensive approach has yielded success in all of our development work.”
According to managing principal Pat FitzGerald, “the route to a successful entitlement process begins with the selection of the appropriate team and, and the most critical members of that team are the architect and the [zoning] attorney. Assembling the correct group of consultants for a project can be every bit as important as setting the program and creating a compelling design. FitzGerald’s long and varied experience has given us useful insight into which consultants are best qualified for a particular assignment.”
FitzGerald Associates Architects recognizes the ways in which an architect traditionally contributes to a zoning team through design input and the preparation of exhibits. We strive to go beyond that, however, and what sets FitzGerald apart is not only the knowledge our teams have of the zoning ordinances, but also a deep regional and political history that allows us to offer our clients anecdotal guidance as to what we’ve seen succeed previously in certain communities or with certain building types.
Throughout the entitlement process, consideration must be given to the range of stakeholders and audiences that come into contact with our ideas while they’re still in nascent development—and different groups are looking for different pieces of data and visual information. In many cases, the first constituency to whom we present a zoning strategy is indeed our own client. In concert with the client’s zoning attorney, FitzGerald will illustrate the range of options and solutions before a development approach and subsequent presentation strategy are chosen.
Once the developer’s course is plotted, the quality of the visual representation of architectural vision becomes paramount. To consultants, a set of design development or construction drawings provides all the information necessary to imagine the building, inside and out. But when the concerned parties aren’t technically-minded, the visualization of how a building’s massing responds to or complements its context or of how a building as a good neighbor would enhance the streetscape becomes critically important.
“Once a program is defined, the narrative can be developed, says Bernie Citron, Partner at Thompson Coburn LLP. “Strategically, the importance is in knowing the communities, in knowing what they’re looking for and being able to respond in a clear and compelling architectural manner.”
Part of that response is, and will always be, the creation of compelling visuals that tell a story. FitzGerald maintains a talented staff and a stable of qualified consultants who create physical and virtual models, hand and digital renderings, and videos that are used to illustrate the building and its context to our clients and their audiences, both municipal and community-based.
The challenge of designing and zoning a new project isn’t isolated to what a community will sign off on, however. The principals, management, and staff of FitzGerald are all residents of these communities. We live and work in the buildings we design. As architects, we design to be a good neighbor in aspect and function, and know that we aren’t only helping to develop an investment—we’re designing a neighborhood asset fostering site specific interactions.
John Marasco, Chief Development Officer at Security Properties in Seattle, continues: “FitzGerald is available to help with issues in a neighborhood that go beyond being an architect, digging into an issue to get honest feedback from the people from whom we desire support.”
While interacting with community, resident, and merchant groups is important, ultimate approval power typically rests with the municipality. FitzGerald has worked with municipal departments throughout the Chicagoland area for decades and knows well how to anticipate and identify potentially contentious development programs. Bolstered by Pat FitzGerald’s own experience as a real estate developer, our team is an adept partner for our client as he addresses the same challenges that we often have encountered around the city.
Throughout the process, FitzGerald maintains and protects the original purpose of highest and best use for the client. Creating—whether from scratch or through the renewal of existing urban fabric—a new place for people to live, learn, work, worship, park, or shop, while proving and then optimizing the value of the real estate asset.