Chicago's Premier Commercial Brokerage


Non-Conforming Uses in the O’Hare Market

Non-Conforming Uses in the O’Hare Market

It is quite common for GC Realty & Development, LLC to receive multiple inquiries on a commercial property, and have to deny certain buyers, due to the property being unable to satisfy their specific “use”. This means that the property can only be used in a way that the local zoning ordinances will permit. 

It is just not typical for a property to be used for something other than it is already zoned for. There are times when a property may even be “grandfathered” in to allow a specific use based on what today’s zoning would allow. 

For instance, a local landscaper has operated at a location for 30 years and the type of business and outside storage a landscaper typically uses is allowed now. However, there is a good chance that if that landscaper moves or closes, the next user will not be able to use that property for the same use because new owners or tenants most likely will not be grandfathered in.  

Use of a property for reasons other than what meets today’s zoning codes is considered a non-conforming use.  What exactly is a non-conforming use as it relates to commercial real estate?  Non-confirming use refers to a type of zoning variance in which a  property is currently zoned for a specific use but the local government will allow a different use.  Simply put, you have a non conforming use when there is a change to zoning but the existing use is still permitted to continue.

In the example of the 30 year long landscaper moving from a property, GCR&D might market that property and receive multiple calls per day from other landscapers looking to use the same property for the same type of use. This is where we, as the listing broker for the property, run into barriers while attempting to get deals done.  I am not saying that the local government will never allow that property to operate as a landscape company again, but now there are hoops to jump through to get the new user what is called a “special use zoning”.   

What is a special use?  A special use is an exception to the existing zoning, whereas a use arises for a property that goes against the zoning laws, but the government will make an exception and allow a variance to what is in place.   

In representing sellers and landlords, it is our job to recognize these situations from the start so we do not waste the time of our clients  trying to secure a particular use that is impossible to obtain. 

What people don't realize is there are many specific types of uses that require a special use almost every single time.  Examples of tenant or buyer uses that require a variance are daycares, properties with outside storage, recreational uses like gymnastics facilities and volleyball courts, auto bodies, and truck parking.  

Villages oftentimes consider themselves to be business friendly, welcoming the opportunity for new businesses to move into their area.  What people do not always realize is that most villages require the new owner or new tenant to reapply for their own special use on the property. They will require this special use if their use does not conform to current zoning guidelines.  

What most don't realize is how arduous of a process applying for a special use can be. For starters, the applications can be lengthy and may require additional documentation, like new architectural drawings. Owners will also have to send notice letters out to neighboring properties, put up a zoning board meeting notice sign, and go before the department heads that will listen to feedback of the community and vote amongst the board. The whole process can cost thousands of dollars, take months, and may not end up in your favor.  

Sometimes it is necessary and worth the time and cost to go through. However, it is important that when going through this process that you align yourself with an attorney and architect, as I have, who can make the process more streamlined.   Our special use team has yet to be turned down in the process over the last 23 years.   We have received dozens of approvals in this immediate O'Hare market. 

Reach out today if you have additional questions on Non conforming uses and variances and I am happy to share over two decades of experience.  Often after just a 15 minute phone call I can point you in the right direction or point out all the variables you may be up against.  

Brad Bullington

Cell Phone: (630) 674-6989


View Available Properties For Lease
View Available Properties For Sale
What is your building worth? Get FREE Analysis Today!
Want to discuss Commercial Property Management? Click HERE
Looking for a breakthrough in your career? Join Our Team!

Blog Home