Chicago may suspend enforcement of its landscaping ordinance

By Mark Guarino
Chicago, IL (March 12, 2010)- A controversial landscaping ordinance may be put on hiatus due to complaints that it goes too far in forcing cleanliness on private property and that its fines are excessive for small-business owners already trying to make ends meet in a recession. On Wednesday, Alderman Eugene Schulter (47th Ward), a cosponsor of the original 1999 zoning and landscaping ordinance, introduced a measure that would impose a moratorium on its enforcement for two years.

The city has been aggressive in enforcing the ordinance, which requires business owners to enhance the visual appeal of their property at their own expense and to erect black metal fencing. Many small-businesses owners say they’ve been fined for violations of which they were not aware. The fines can range from $500 to $1,000 each day a violation exists, according to the Chicago Department of Law. Some violations can take years to correct.
The ordinance is in line with Mayor Richard M. Daley’s continuing push to beautify public spaces, says DePaul University political science professor Larry Bennett, the author “The Third City: Chicago and American Urbanism.”
Past beautification efforts have included deluxe public transit stations, tree and flower plantings in and around neighborhood commercial districts, and Millennium Park, the 25-acre combined park, rooftop garden, and pavilion space located on the city’s “front lawn.”
The ornamental black fencing is considered Daley’s “fetish,” Mr. Bennett says. The mayor handpicked the style while on a trip to Europe in the 1990s. Now it can be found festooned around almost every public park, school, and outdoor area. Bennett says that the aggressive beautification, some at the expense of private business owners, is what makes Daley’s legacy much different than that of his father, the late Mayor Richard J. Daley. “Richard M. is very cosmopolitan figure, even in the way he talks. He’s traveled a lot and is quite committed to the idea that physical beautification is one of the ways you create a city that has more amenities and is a place people want to be in,” he says.
Mayor Daley said Monday he’s willing to let Chicago businesses substitute plastic fences for more costly wrought-iron, but he’s not about to declare a blanket moratorium on Chicago’s landscaping ordinance. For months, business leaders and their local aldermen have been complaining that businesses struggling to survive the prolonged recession can no longer afford to comply with the costly demands of the city’s landscaping ordinance.
Daley is a self-described tree-hugger who is almost singularly responsible for Chicago’s array of median planters and wrought-iron fences. That’s apparently why he is not prepared to sign off on a blanket moratorium. “If you don’t plant as many trees, what do you do? Developers can spend a little bit on trees and keep their property clean,” he said.
“Property owners who don’t live in the city- if you go to their homes in the suburban area or their businesses, they’re spotless. If you come in the city, why can’t you clean?… Trees help the environment. You’re looking at wrought-iron fencing, fine. They can put in plastic fencing [instead]. But, at least they can clean their property. This is all about cleanliness and the environment.”
If the city council passes the moratorium on enforcing the landscape ordinance, it may contribute to the complicated and sometimes antagonistic relationship the mayor has with his constituency. “Mayor Daley is an admired figure, but not a beloved figure,” says Bennett. “So the same owner of a hardware store… who is appreciative of streetscaping in his neighborhood might also complain [if] he has to sink a couple of thousand of dollars into fences.”
Related Resources:
Christian Science Monitor- Chicago may suspend enforcement of its landscaping ordinance