The Evanston City Council Monday voted to move ahead with an ordinance restricting the establishment of churches in business and commercial districts after an alderman said the city may face an invasion of storefront churches from Chicago.

The Evanston City Council Monday voted to move ahead with an ordinance restricting the establishment of churches in business and commercial districts after an alderman said the city may face an invasion of storefront churches from Chicago.

The New Hope Haitian Church in the 700 block of Howard Street is one of the churches Alderman Rainey complained about.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said there are already seven storefront churches on the Evanston side of a single block on Howard Street.

She added that the alderman of Chicago’s 49th Ward recently learned that all the storefront churches in his ward violate Chicago’s zoning restrictions, and she fears many of those churches may try to move to the Evanston side of Howard as Chicago cracks down on them.

Alderman Rainey, right, with Alderman Jane Grover at Monday’s City Council meeting.

Rainey said the churches aren’t open during the week when retail and commercial activity is taking place and tend to create dead zones in the neighborhood business district.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, noted that there’s also a cluster of about a half dozen churches in commercially zoned land along Simpson Street in her ward.

The ordinance, which is scheduled for a final vote by the council in two weeks, would removed religious institutions as a permitted use in business and commercial districts and require them to seek a special use permit from the council to operate there.

The ordinance would also restrict the ability of existing churches in those districts to expand their operation.

No one spoke in opposition to the measure during the council meeting Monday night.

Rainey said the majority of uses now permitted in commercial districts are tax exempt, and she called for the Zoning Committee of the Plan Commission to develop additional restrictions on tax exempt uses in those zones. 

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Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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4 Comments

  1. Churches or Nothing

    I believe that an owner of commercial real estate has the right to rent out his store front to any legitimate business.  These store-front churches pay rent that keeps the real estate owner in the black and prevents foreclosure.  Would the City Council prefer empty store fronts or the space be rented to adult book stores, liquor or cigarette stores or pawn shops?

    I do recognize the right of the City Council to have some oversight when religious organizations want to buy land in Evanston and take the property off the tax rolls. However, these organizations are filling an economic and spiritual void to the Howard St. neighborhood that surely wants both.

    Playing hardball with Jewish/Christian religious organizations is easy. Lets see the City Council say no to a store-front Mosque.

  2. Empty storefronts

    Playing hardball with Jewish/Christian religious organizations is easy. Lets see the City Council say no to a store-front Mosque.

    This is stupid.  The Council may want to prevent certain property from becoming tax-exempt.  If this is done fairly, it is entirely reasonable behavior by the City.   A good case can be made that letting tax-exempt institutions  occupy the buildings is better than letting them go empty  or turn into adult bookstores.   I oppose efforts to limit Northwestern’s use of property for this reason.   But the totally unnecessary reference to a mosque makes me think that you are just another intolerant right-wing Republican like Sarah Palin,  Joel Pollak, or Rudolph Giuliani.

    You should know that recently in Rogers Park, an application to turn the empty ‘U Lucky Dawg’ restaurant on Western  into an Islamic prayer center was turned down…not on religious grounds, but because they did not want the property to become tax exempt.    

    1. Reply: empty store fronts

      When an alderman calls the opening of a store front churches in Evanston an "invasion" it shows that the city council is a bit hostile to religious organizations.  It is my understanding (which I may be wrong) that the these store front churches are paying rent to a property owner and that by itself does not take the property off the tax rolls because the rental property is a religious organization.  The religious organization is a tenet and not a property owner.  If a store front Mosque wants to open and pay rent it should be allowed to and be welcomed. 

      Changing the zoning laws to prevent this "invasion" is using the zoning laws as blunt weapon which may have been the case in preventing an Islamic Prayer Group from opening on the property at the U Dawg Restaurant in Chicago.

      In fact, many people in New York want to change the zoning laws to prevent the building of the Ground Zero Mosque that would be wrong.  I cannot speak for Sarah Plain, but Guiliani and Pollack have not denied the Mosque has the constitutional right to build at ground zero it just should be respectful to the 70% New York residents that would prefer it to be built a few block away.

      The city council has recently fought legal battles with a Christian Church and a Jewish Day School from opening.  The city council should cut the budget instead of going after religious institutions.

  3.  Evanston city government is

     Evanston city government is reaping what it has sown.  They failed to allow revenue-generating development downtown.  They failed to make cuts in the budget.  So now, they’re short of funds.

    Discouraging a Christian congregation from locating in Evanston because it would take a commercial property off the tax rolls seems reasonable, given the budget situation, but if the church is paying rent as a commercial tent to a landlord who pays taxes, the facts don’t fit that argument.  The tax argument also did not apply to the new mosque in Evanston, since it took over an existing (although unfinished) church building.  If it had taken over a commercial property, given budget concerns, there would have been a loud argument about it, just as there is when NU takes over property.

    It seems to me the city government is discouraging the church for ideological reasons.   Evanston population and government are left wing/liberal/statist and the left tends to be anti-Christian, or at least aggressively ‘secularist’ to the point of discouraging traditional religion.  Evanston has a lot of churches but I suspect on Sunday mornings, most of the ministers preach to mostly empty seats.   Why should the typical secular lefty living in Evanston care what other people do on Sunday mornings?   Does it interfere with hiz Sunday morning reading of New York Times articles celebrating ‘tolerance’?

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