Aldermen: Coach houses OK behind ranch homes

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Evanston aldermen voted Monday to allow construction of two-story coach houses behind single-family homes — overturning, at city staff’s request, a restriction recommended by the city’s Plan Commission.

The Plan Commission, at a meeting last month, was persuaded by Commisisoner Peter Isaac’s argument that a two-story coach house behind a single-story home would look out of place.

But city staff, supported by some owners of single-story homes who want to build coach houses, argued that the restriction would block more than 450 properties in the city from adding an accessory dwelling unit and run counter to the city’s goal of providing more affordable housing.

To meet the city’s off-street parking requirements and setback and lot coverage rules, most properties in the city can only accommodate a coach house if it is two stories tall — with parking on the ground level and the dwelling unit above.

The new ordinance makes several changes designed to encourage coach house construction that the Plan Commission supported.

It permits a coach house behind any residential structure, rather than just behind single-family homes. City staff estimates that would increase by 800 the number of properties in the city that could accommodate a coach house — mostly in the 2nd, 5th and 9th wards.

It also reduces coach-house parking requirements. Now a coach house is required to provide one parking space for each dwelling unit in the coach house.

For coach houses built on single-family lots, that means the total number of parking spaces required typically increases from two for the main house, to three once the coach house is added.

The new ordinance drops the requirement for an extra space if the coach house is within a designated transit-oriented development area or within 1,500 feet of a public transit bus stop or train station.

With that change, only properties within narrow strips of land, notably along the lakefront and in west and northwest Evanston, would still be require to have an extra parking space for a coach house.

A separate provision would exempt properties from the extra parking requirement if the homeowner had an income at or below 80 percent of area median income at the time of coach house construction or if one of the units on the property was rented for 10 years at a price affordable to someone making at or below 80 percent of AMI.

The ordinance was approved for introduction without dissent Monday. It will still require a final approval vote, expected at the Council’s Jan. 13 meeting, to be added to the zoning code.

Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, recused herself from the discussion and vote because she’s a member of the Evanston Development Cooperative, which is seeking to build coach houses in the city.

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