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Aldermen back Central Street dorm

Evanston aldermen Monday voted 7-1 in favor of a special use request from National Louis University to turn a vacant office building at 1620 Central St. into a dormitory for disabled students.

Evanston aldermen Monday voted 7-1 in favor of a special use request from National Louis University to turn a vacant office building at 1620 Central St. into a dormitory for disabled students.

The vote came after university officials said they would address privacy complaints from neighbors by increasing plantings and using translucent glass and special window treatments on building windows that face residential properties to the east and west.

The university also agreed to provide a parking space in the building’s lot to each of four single-family homeowners whose houses adjoin the property and face Ashland Avenue. Three of those homes lack alley access and have limited or no off-street parking.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, cast the only vote against the plan. She said she would have supported it if the college had agreed to make a payment to compensate for the loss of tax revenue to the city. Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, was absent from the meeting.

Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, whose 7th Ward includes the site, said steps the university had taken to address neighborhood concerns, which also include agreeing to pay part of the cost of repaving the alley behind the property, made it financially infeasible for the school to make a payment in lieu of taxes.

"I think the latest solution is probably as good as it can be," Tisdahl said.

About 50 students with multiple disabilities would live in the building while attending in the school’s Professional Assistant Center for Education program, along with a half dozen staff members.

Tisdahl said PACE students have lived in the 7th Ward for years. "There have been no problems, I’ve not heard any complaints about them," she said.

By contrast, she said, she’s heard many complaints over the years about students attending Northwestern University.

"PACE students are part of the diversity of this community," Tisdahl said, "and diversity is what we all pride ourselves on."

The aldermen amended the special use permit ordinance to limit it to apply only to the PACE program and related activities by the school and to require that a new special use request be filed by any other school that might acquire the property in the future.

Several neighbors continued to object to the plan at Monday’s meeting, citing privacy concerns and the loss of property tax revenue.

The plan is scheduled for a final vote by the aldermen at the next City Council meeting on July 14.

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