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Target infill, infrastructure, and natural area investments

Target infill, infrastructure, and natural area investments

A thoughtful, holistic approach to development can help all parts of the region thrive. To make this approach possible, partners across sectors and at multiple levels must carefully invest both funds and expertise. Such targeting can make investment less challenging, encourage better alignment between infrastructure improvements and planned development, and accommodate strategic new development that minimizes impacts on agricultural and natural areas.

ON TO 2050 sets a target for 75 percent of residential development and 85 percent of non-residential development to occur within highly and partially infill supportive areas, which have existing development, residents, businesses, and infrastructure.[1] Reinvesting in areas with existing services and infrastructure has broad regional benefits. Local governments and transportation providers incur fewer infrastructure and service costs. Businesses often have access to a larger pool of potential customers and workers. Residents can reach a broader set of options for work, recreation, and services via transit, car, or bike. Reaching this target will require a wholesale shift in how the region’s governments and private entities approach planning and development, from reinvigorating commercial corridors and residential neighborhoods, to building up mixed-use centers, to focusing resources near transit and existing transportation nodes.

The region has had mixed results in encouraging new investment in already-developed areas, particularly areas with access to transit and other resources. While development under construction today is clearly changing -- and beginning to align with ON TO 2050 goals -- catching up on infill is imperative to achieve transit ridership and congestion goals. Focusing assistance and investment resources in areas that communities have identified as a priority can make the best use of constrained funding. Whether via private development, public infrastructure, or other means, reinvestment is most effective when it is consistent with regional goals as well as local plans and regulations, coordinated with other funding sources, and linked with supportive public programs. By strategically targeting investments toward community main streets and economic centers where infrastructure already exists, we can maximize the impact both of those new expenditures and of the earlier ones when such areas were originally developed. Communities that have a clear, realistic vision for future investment are ideally situated to maximize the potential impact of such an approach.


While aligning plans and regulations is important, it does not always attract reinvestment by itself. Infill sites, even vacant ones, can pose problems for developers. The complex early stages of project development can deter investors: assembling multiple small parcels with fragmented ownership, developing land under multiple regulatory jurisdictions, and remediating environmental contamination are all costly and complicated barriers. Along with the need to coordinate with neighbors who will be affected by the redevelopment, these challenges can make it difficult for communities to attract private investment.

When multiple agencies coordinate diverse technical knowledge and funding sources, development becomes more feasible and beneficial. For example, making multi-agency investments related to industrial development -- such as reconstruction of an intermodal truck corridor while targeting nearby brownfields for environmental remediation and addressing localized flooding problems through construction of green infrastructure -- would be more likely to spur successful industrial or logistics development than if these investments were made in isolation.

A broad, sustained approach to increase reinvestment must also reflect the Chicago region's strong tradition of local land use control and multitude of public, nonprofit, and private interests. The region has many places worthy of new investment. Existing community main streets, mixed-use centers, and bus or rail transit nodes need added businesses, residents, and supportive development to thrive and support well-functioning transit. Disinvested areas, which have experienced a long-term loss of people and jobs, can benefit from coordinated, intentional, and systemic investment by public and private actors. The region’s office and industrial centers house the industries that connect our economy to the world, and they need continued reinvestment to continue to grow as the economy changes.

[GRAPHIC TO COME: Illustrations of prototypical potential TRA types before and after reinvestment: a main street, an office center, a disinvested area.]

At the same time, the region will continue to expand. Development on agricultural, natural, and other open lands at the region's perimeter can help achieve community goals, but can incur substantive costs. Communities should consider the long-term benefits and costs of new development, whether that be associated with building and maintaining new infrastructure, market viability for the remaining agricultural uses, or consumption and degradation of natural assets. Areas with potential for new development -- termed Coordinated Growth Areas -- can carefully expand in ways that require less infrastructure, improve short- and long-term fiscal impacts, and promote quality of life. Strategically planning for conservation of natural areas and key agricultural lands, combined with sensitive development practices, enhances both natural and built environments.

[GRAPHIC TO COME: Coordinated Growth Local Strategy Map interactive feature highlighting natural and agricultural areas where there is development pressure and illustrating best practices in preservation and development.]


The following describes strategies and associated actions to implement this recommendation.


Create a program to focus resources in Targeted Reinvestment Areas

In concert with partners, CMAP should create a Targeted Reinvestment Area (TRA) process for municipalities and counties to designate locations for infill, infrastructure, affordable housing, and other types of assistance and funding. As part of the agency's familiar planning and infrastructure funding processes, it should not aim to replace effective systems, but rather to adapt them to maximize investment impacts. This program would also have to complement broader initiatives such as asset management, which can also enhance decision making.

Preliminary steps in establishing a TRA program include building consensus among partners on the types of areas where investment should be targeted. The ON TO 2050 planning process has identified three types of areas that municipalities and counties, civic organizations, transportation providers, and other stakeholders consider most important for reinvestment: employment centers; mixed-use downtowns, main streets, and bus and rail transit stops; and disinvested areas. Further definition of the scope and criteria unique to each of these types is necessary to begin establishing a program to direct resources toward those locations. Experience with similar programs in other regions has shown that the most effective approach is locally driven, as local governments and community groups submit target areas for designation provided that they meet certain parameters.


CMAP should lead this effort while convening many others to participate because the agency cannot fully implement a TRA program on its own. There are many public agencies, nonprofit groups, and private entities that contribute to investment decisions in the Chicago region. Coordinating investment implies a multitude of agencies and investors working together to support beneficial development that is consistent with local plans. This is not a novel concept in the Chicago region; most, if not all, significant redevelopment and construction projects already include multiple layers of funding and financing. But by communicating proactively and setting priorities jointly, these agencies can make the best use of our limited investment dollars.


Finally, although TRAs offer an opportunity to focus numerous resources and drive change, the program would not preclude implementation of other substantive needs outlined in ON TO 2050. Investment and assistance should still occur throughout the region in ways that support the priorities of the plan. For example, planning for the Coordinated Growth Areas described in the Environment chapter can help communities improve development patterns and infrastructure investment. Similarly, collaboration across communities on issues like economic development or truck routing may incorporate TRAs and many other areas.


CMAP should work with partners, including local governments, Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) and housing authorities, Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and other transportation agencies, financial institutions, community development financial institutions (CDFIs), regional land banks, stormwater management agencies, and philanthropic, nonprofit, and civic organizations to specify criteria for designating mixed-use centers (including bus and rail transit station areas), disinvested areas, and employment and industrial centers as TRAs.


CMAP and partners should adapt and integrate existing policies and programs within their respective organizations to direct technical assistance and funding toward areas designated as TRAs.


After the program is established, local governments should identify and propose to CMAP any areas within their boundaries that might fit TRA criteria.


CMAP should direct funds such as the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) program, the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), and the Surface Transportation Program (STP), as well as technical assistance through Local Technical Assistance (LTA) toward qualifying TRAs.


Evaluate future infrastructure costs when considering development expansion

In an era of limited resources, growing communities should carefully weigh the long-term costs of maintaining and replacing infrastructure against the fiscal benefits of new development. A lack of full-cost pricing and declining federal and state support have left many communities struggling to maintain infrastructure already in place. Some municipal costs, including roads, water and wastewater, stormwater, and fire protection, are more dependent on the location and density of development than others. For example, lot size, minimum block length, and street design standards influence the length and width of streets and the corresponding density of development that provides financial support for the eventual maintenance and replacement of those streets. While future land use plans and zoning and subdivision ordinances dictate the development pattern, the planning process rarely factors in the long-term financial impacts of those requirements or considers the costs of that additional infrastructure within the context of the municipality’s existing liabilities. Avoiding unnecessary future infrastructure and maintenance costs will enable communities to prioritize investment toward other community objectives. Regarding long-term financial health, communities can minimize their infrastructure maintenance costs by limiting expansion and building more compactly when they do extend roads and sewers to new locations. This strategy also appears in the Environment chapter under the recommendation to Integrate land preservation into strategic growth efforts.


Local governments should consider existing road, water, and wastewater infrastructure capacity in decisions about the intensity and extent of new development.

Local governments should review and revise development standards with attention to long-term maintenance costs associated with different development patterns.

Local governments should collect adequate taxes and fees per the findings of fiscal impact analyses to cover the cost of infrastructure and services over the lifespan of new development.

CMAP should explore ways to encourage development standards that minimize long-term maintenance costs and consider incentives for such practices through existing transportation and infrastructure funding programs.

Plan for future development when approving near-term infrastructure and development proposals

As highlighted throughout ON TO 2050, a lack of adequate infrastructure can hinder investment. Given this, communities planning for future densities should take those added households and businesses into account when creating or renewing infrastructure. For example, Pace and Niles have coordinated land use planning for the Milwaukee Avenue corridor with the creation of the Pulse Milwaukee line, thereby linking near-term transit improvements with long-term land use planning. Many benefits flow from such forethought. First, communities that create the street, pedestrian, and bike networks to support future plans demonstrate to the market that the area is primed for further investment. Second, making infrastructure investments prior to or concurrent with development can reduce the cost and timeline of projects, as going back to provide that infrastructure later is typically more costly and complicated. Finally, communities can build and design improvements that can be expanded if needed with greater prudence.


Communities should consider local development proposals in a similar light, recognizing that what is approved today affects the possibilities of what will be proposed in the future. If a community wants to see additional development but current proposals do not help build toward that, that community should consider such proposals with caution. Communities should focus on whether or not the proposal is a transitional use (something likely to go away once the area develops) or a permanent use (something likely to remain in place even after development). Tying development goals to infrastructure provision and near-term approvals can help rural communities and urban neighborhoods alike. In expanding areas, assessing long-term fiscal impact is also critical. Local governments should consider long-term goals when making infrastructure investment and development decisions and align zoning and building regulations to support those goals. See the recommendation to Incorporate market and fiscal feasibility into planning and development processes for more information.

Protect agricultural and natural land through local planning processes

As the region’s population grows, valuable agricultural and natural resources will continue to face development pressure, particularly in locations within or adjacent to municipal boundaries, as highlighted in the Coordinated Growth local strategy map. Identifying agricultural and natural lands in local, county, and regional planning and development efforts signals their importance and helps communities recognize the contributions of such lands to local and regional economies, ecosystems, and character. For example, Kane and McHenry counties identify agricultural and natural lands in their future land use maps. While their plans acknowledge that anticipated population growth could result in the conversion of undeveloped land, much of the existing agricultural and natural land cover is anticipated to remain in its current use. These plans also direct new development toward locations with or adjacent to existing infrastructure.


Municipalities and counties can also leverage their regulatory processes to improve the relationship between development and agricultural and natural resources. For example, updating development ordinances can support preservation of valuable natural assets and the corridors between them, and minimize the impact of new development on agricultural and natural resources. Local governments can use a number of different strategies, including agricultural and natural resource zoning districts, modernized definitions and standards relating to agriculture and natural resources, updated protection measures within subdivision ordinances, and provisions for long-term stewardship of protected open space. Conservation-oriented development and clustering can help preserve natural resources while accommodating broader community goals for development. Even without clustering, development can be designed to protect the existing natural resources and use them as inherent assets of the site. This strategy also appears in the Environment chapter under the recommendation to Integrate land preservation into strategic growth efforts.


Local governments should use the Conservation Areas local strategy map and the Key Agricultural Lands local strategy map, when available, to inform local planning and development efforts.

CMAP and partners should quantify the agricultural system’s contribution to the regional and local economies to better inform local economic development strategies, land use planning, and transportation investments.

CMAP should refer to the Conservation Areas local strategy map to inform long-range transportation planning and programming.

Local governments should adopt conservation-oriented development standards and avoid development on key natural areas.

Local governments should conduct detailed development site inventories of natural resources and first attempt to avoid, reduce, and then mitigate the natural resource impacts of development through actions such as protecting existing assets and conservation areas.

CMAP should investigate conservation design practices that work best with agricultural activities.


[1] Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning snapshot report, “Infill and TOD,” 2017,

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