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Aldermen wrestle with restaurant rules

Aldermen on Evanston’s Planning and Development Committee decided Monday that they don’t like the new restaurant definitions the City Council adopted last fall.

In 2005, the council — trying to deal with litter problems created by fast-food restaurants — made those businesses jump through the city’s "special use permit" process before they could open.

Aldermen on Evanston’s Planning and Development Committee decided Monday that they don’t like the new restaurant definitions the City Council adopted last fall.

In 2005, the council — trying to deal with litter problems created by fast-food restaurants — made those businesses jump through the city’s "special use permit" process before they could open.

Only restaurants that used non-disposable flatware and dishes and that provided table service with waiters or waitresses could be approved without being labeled a "type 2" establishment that would have to survive a hearing before the Zoning Board of Appeals

But Zoning Administrator Bill Dunkley noticed that many restaurant operators were asking for a mixed format. They might be dine-in, but use at least some disposable serving dishes. And some portion of their business might be carry out.

Dunkley offered Panera Bread and Cosi as examples of the mixed-format restaurants that didn’t seem to fit the "fast-food" model.

So, the zoning staff proposed, and the council adopted last September, a new set of restaurant definitions. The new rules would let a restaurant avoid the "type 2" brand as long as less than 30 percent of its business was in carry-out food and it didn’t have a drive-through.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said she now doesn’t like the changes, voicing fears that too many establishments that could create litter problems would slip through as of right under the new ordinance.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said she believes the city once defined three different classes of restaurant with different restrictions, and said that might be a better solution.

But Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said the special use process takes too long. She noted that Dunkley said the process typically takes three months, and that some potential restaurant owners have given up and decided not to try to open in Evanston rather than bear the financial costs of such a long wait.

Rainey suggested the requests might come directly to the City Council, rather than through the ZBA, to speed the process. But Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar said that might create problems, given the quasi-judicial nature of ZBA proceedings.

And Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, who used to be a ZBA member, said the ZBA has a lot more time to work through details of an application and hear comments from neighbors than the City Council does.

In the end, the committee directed the staff to try to come up with another version of the rules, and if not, that they should go back to the previous verson.

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