What is Incremental Development?

Incremental Development is characterized by allowing small-scale changes to individual properties.  Most everyone is familiar with “mega developments” that often appear in cities. Examples include the large apartment buildings, sprawling retail centers or mid-rise mixed-use buildings.  These developments often occupy large land areas, replace existing buildings and sometimes displace residents.  They are built by large-scale developers who are well capitalized and able to maximize their development potential  Incremental Development is an alternative to this development approach.

Incremental Development Graphic

“Incremental Development” seeks to promote incremental change to neighborhoods and and commercial areas by allowing an increase in size and intensity but in a more incremental manner so that change is less abrupt and that the overall design and function of a neighborhood is not disrupted.  Most importantly, the concept of Incremental Development is for this change to happen by community members who seek to make improvements, and incremental change, to their property.  This many mean growing a small cottage business into a more robust storefront or a homeowner creating a second rental unit on their residential property.  The key is that the change is “incremental”.

Too often, existing zoning requirements in many cities seem to prevent the concepts of incremental development and rather push redevelopment options towards the “mega development” concept.  The goal for the City of  Champaign is to find appropriate changes to zoning requirements that would better promote and allow Incremental Development.

Want to Learn More? 

Below are additional resources to learn about Incremental Development in general and other efforts to promote positive changes to the way we build our cities.

City Council Goal 

The Champaign City Council adopted the following goal as part of its 2019-2021 goal setting exercise:  “Support incremental development by evaluating and updating City codes and policies to eliminate barriers to affordable, sustainable, and neighborhood-scale reinvestment.”

City Council Adopted Principles of Incremental Development 

The following three principles will guide staff as they advance this Council Goal:

Allowing Incremental Development in Champaign’s neighborhoods allows for a greater diversity of housing choice and, in turn, more affordable housing options for the individuals hoping to live in those neighborhoods. At present, the vast majority of residentially zoned land only allows for one single-family house per lot. Accordingly, most neighborhoods in Champaign are only accessible to those households that can afford to buy (or rent) and maintain an entire building and lot on their own, without any other households to cover the costs. Households that cannot afford these expenses are excluded from these neighborhoods and forced to compete for housing in the limited parts of town that allow other types of housing. In many ways, the type(s) of housing allowed in a neighborhood are determinative of the type(s) of households who can afford to live in those neighborhoods.
Incremental Development is not limited to the housing realm. The same principles apply to commercial activity as well. Allowing small-scale, neighborhood-oriented commercial development increases opportunities for small business owners while simultaneously allowing neighborhood residents to meet more of their needs in close proximity to home. Many businesses grow incrementally over time, even in the face of certain regulatory hurdles. Consider the example of a business that grows from a weekly farmers’ market stall to a food truck to a brick-and-mortar restaurant, or the person who goes from doing hair and nails for people at home to opening a salon in a strip mall with a staff of other stylists. In each case, businesses starting out with limited capital could not have afforded to operate out of a commercially zoned building from the start. A physical environment that is lighter, quicker, and cheaper nurtures these businesses in their infancy, with the businesses moving to larger, more formalized spaces as business gets better. At present, the Zoning Ordinance does not always accommodate businesses as they incrementally intensify. Small, inward-focused home businesses with few on-site customers are accommodated by the Home Occupation rules, and larger businesses can access a variety of buildings across a number of commercial zoning districts. Businesses in the middle stages of growth, however, are not so well accommodated. Incremental Development principles can be applied to the Zoning Ordinance to more easily accommodate neighborhood-oriented commercial development that balances the needs of the business operator and the character of the surrounding residential areas.
As discussed above, the key features of Incremental Development are small-scale changes, a mix of building sizes, shapes, and styles, and a measured change of pace. As such, any land use policy changes must ensure that changes to any neighborhood’s built environment are gradual and compatible with existing neighborhood design. Over the next several decades, both the public sector and the private sector are going to invest in housing, businesses, and infrastructure across the community. The form and distribution of those investments is heavily shaped by land use policy. Under an Incremental Development model, those investments are dispersed over both time and space, and each investment is relatively modest in scale. Thus, accommodating a few hundred new housing units across dozens of sites in many neighborhoods can be less disruptive than finding one site in one location to accommodate the same amount of housing.

What Actions is the City of Champaign Taking to Advance Incremental Development? 

On November 24, 2020, the Champaign City Council held a Study Session on Incremental Development and directed staff to implement a set of actions on an 18-month timeline.  Some of these actions are already underway and have been designated “short term”.  Other, more complex actions are planned to be completed on longer timelines and have been designated “medium term” and “long term”.  Staff anticipate completing most of these actions by Summer of 2022.

  • Create a webpage that educates and promotes the community on incremental development Status: Complete
  • Identify regulations in residential zoning districts that present barriers to Incremental Development Status: Study session to be presented at City Council on April 27, 2021 (SS 2021-012)
  • Identify vacant City-owned lots that could be offered for Incremental Development Status: In Progress
  • Invite the Incremental Development Alliance to conduct a Community Workshop Status: Not started
  • Propose specific amendments to residential zoning districts Status: Not started
  • Identify regulations in commercial zoning districts that present barriers to Incremental Development Status: Not started
  • Further study and understand Affordable Housing issues within neighborhoods Status: Not started • Propose specific amendments to commercial zoning districts Status: Not started
  • Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) 

    An Accessory Dwelling Unit is an additional dwelling unit on a lot that is typically smaller (hence “accessory”) to the main home.  It can be built within an existing home (such as a basement or an addition), above a garage or even as a freestanding small dwelling unit. While Champaign used to allow these types of units many years ago as many old carriage garages were converted, today they are prohibited. Many communities are now allowing Accessory Dwelling Units as one tool to provide more housing in their community and give homeowners more options for their property.  They often provide more affordable housing choice as well.  Some states, such as California and Oregon, even have passed legislation requiring cities to allow ADUs.  Such legislation is pending in Illinois.  In the summer of 2021, Staff will begin researching ADU ordinances and propose potential allowance for them in Champaign.  The links below provide more information about ADUs.

    accessorydwellings.org 
    aarp.org

    Public Input Opportunities

    At key times throughout the implementation of this Council Goal, staff will seek input from the public.  Check back at this spot for information about active public input opportunities and the results previous public input opportunities.

    If you would like to be added to the Incremental Development email list and receive periodic updates on this project, please email zoning@champaignil.gov.  Please use Incremental Development Email List as the subject.

    Prior Public Meetings 

    City Council Study Session – November 24, 2020 

    On November 24, 2020, the Champaign City Council held a Study Session on this Council Goal and directed staff to proceed with the recommended implementation actions and timeline.