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Aldermen debate bedroom design

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, wants to ban loft-style bedrooms that lack their own windows in new construction in Evanston.

But several of her aldermanic colleagues failed to see the need for such a ban when they discussed the issue this week.

Ald. Wynne says she thinks the so-called windowless bedrooms, which get their light and fresh air from adjoining

rooms through openings in walls above eye level, are acceptable in conversions of older buildings to residential use, where the layout of the floors may make alternative approaches unfeasible.

She says those buildings usually have high ceilings that provide sufficient light and air.

But in new construction, where ceilings are generally lower, she says the designs don’t work. She also argued that if architects are forced to provide windows in bedrooms in new construction they’ll come up with more attractive designs.

"Otherwise we get lower quality architecture — railroad flats," she claimed.

The practice is allowed in both new construction and conversions under the International Building Code which Evanston and many other communities have adopted. But Ald. Wynne said Chicago doesn’t allow the design in new construction.

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, said he’s opposed the ban. He said the lack of a window doesn’t mean there’s not ventilation or light in the unit.

He said he’s familiar with the design in a new building on Maple developed by Tom Roszak and said it has plenty of light.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 2nd ward, said, "I think we have better things to do than pass this ordinance.

Buyers, she said, should be able to decide whether they want to accept a design without a bedroom window.

She said builders would be likely to call the spaces dens instead of bedrooms, but buyers would still use them for bedrooms.

"Are we going to go around and inspect newly constructed private homes to make sure nobody put a bed in the den?" she asked.

Alderman Cheryl Wollin, 1st Ward, suggested the windowless bedrooms are part of a technique developers use to get the maximum number of small units in a building and effectively design it just for student use.

But Ald. Jean-Baptiste responded that changing the bedroom rule wouldn’t affect the unit sizes. "If the intent is to set a minimum size for apartments, let’s talk about that," he said.

And Alderman Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward, said, "If the issue is jamming students into a building, we still have an ordinance limiting to three the number of unrelated people in a dwelling unit — no matter how many bedrooms it has."

He added that some of the renovated units he’s seen that have bedrooms that draw their light from an adjacent room were "incredibly wonderful."

The aldermen voted to postpone action on the measure and seek comments from architects before they discuss the proposal further.

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