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Navigating the Public Way

By Donna Pugh, Foley & Lardner, LLP

Whether you are a property owner, manager, or a tenant, failing to comply with the City of Chicago’s public way requirements will cost you time and money. If not properly permitted, public way improvements can leave property owners and managers open to liability issues. Further, delays in securing signage or façade improvements can cause leasing issues for new tenants or management companies. Navigating the public way permitting process and managing existing permits can be cumbersome if you are not familiar with the proper procedures. Whether you are seeking approvals of canopies, bollards, planters, snow melting equipment, or something else entirely, having a good understanding of the what, who, when, and where of the City of Chicago’s public way process will save you time and money.

What projects need a public way permit? Use of the public way includes occupation on, above, or below City right-of-ways, including sidewalks, streets, alleys, highways, and other public thoroughfares. Signage, vaults, elevated walkways, bollards, planters, and canopies are common public way uses.

Who should secure the public way permit? The answer to this question can differ depending on the proposed public way improvement. As a general rule, I recommend property owners seek public way permits in their name for all permanent features, even if the property management company handles the application. Transferring public ways permits can be a difficult and time consuming process, so it is best to avoid needing to transfer public way permits when tenants change.

When do you need to seek public way permits? Many public way permits are needed in conjunction with other City approvals. For example, sign permits over the public way need both a public way permit and a Department of Building sign permit. Alternatively, underground vaults need Office of Underground Coordination approvals. Public Way permits can be sought simultaneously with other approvals. It usually takes 3-6 months to obtain a public way permits, so we strongly recommend seeking the public way permits alongside of other approvals, so projects are not unnecessarily delayed.

Where can you learn more about public way permits? Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) is located on the seventh floor of City Hall and the City of Chicago’s website has many resources to assist with submitting these applications.


About the Author

Donna J. Pugh is a partner with Foley & Lardner LLP where she focuses on obtaining land use and zoning entitlements on behalf of her retail, health care and corporate clients. With her approach of bridging the gap between client, civic and municipal needs, Ms. Pugh has an exceptionally high success rate of securing necessary approvals for land development projects in the Chicago area.