Three owners of long-established Evanston businesses are among the property owners fighting proposed west side zoning changes that would restrict the use of their land.

The owners say zoning changes proposed to implement the west side master plan adopted last summer would turn their properties into non-conforming uses and effectively prevent them from expanding.

The rezoning would designate all the sites for residential use if they were ever to be redeveloped.

The properties affected include Cahill Plumbing at 1515 Church St., National Awards, located next door to Cahill at 1611 Church St. and Buffalo Joe’s Sea Food at 2000 Green Bay Rd.

Attorney James Murray, who represents the business owners, told the Zoning Committee of the Plan Commission earlier this month that the rezoning would have a drastic impact on the businesses.

“The concept of creating nonconformities is bad public policy because of the burden it imposes on the owner of the non-conforming property,” Murray said.

He added that a revision to the re-zoning proposal developed by city staff in mid-December after several months of discussion if anything makes the problem even worse.

“It eviscerates and renders virtually impossible any prospect of any expansion of the uses,” he said.

The standards would require the business owners to demonstrate — among other things — that the expansion would result in no increase in traffic or vehicle trips to the property.

“I’m not sure this comes from a capitalist society,” Murray said. “If you’re interested in expanding your business you will want to increase traffic, or the cost of the expansion would result in bankruptcy.”

Overall, he said, the regulations are just “smoke and mirrors” appearing to leave room for expansion or redevelopment while in effect making it impossible.

He suggested that the current zoning of the parcels — I2 industrial for Cahill and National Awards and C2 commercial for Buffalo Joe’s — should be left unchanged.

Plan Commissioner Stuart Opdycke said, “I want, to the extent possible, to accommodate these parties’ needs.”

Commissioner Johanna Nyden, “I don’t understand why these property owners are subject to this problem but a person across the street isn’t. Perhaps it’s not spot zoning, but it’s very weird.”

City planner Susan Guderly said the focus of the west side plan was to convert largely vacant industrial land to residential uses and that the city’s consultant had raised concerns that the market would not support much expansion of commercial uses in the area.

Commission Chairman James Woods said, “The current proposal seems to assume that an economically viable, growing business has no place here, and at least for some of us, that’s a concern.”

Murray said, “I think the plan suggests idealistic things that are very desirable, but the problem is it is closing the door on what are also desirable elements of the Evanston community — it’s employment base.”

The zoning committee plans to hold another meeting on the west side zoning issues at 6 p.m. Feb. 13, but Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, told the committee he believes it will take at least 90 days to develop a compromise solution acceptable to the business owners and area residents.

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Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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1 Comment

  1. What happened to the form based zoning model?
    I don’t claim to be a planner but I don’t understand why the zoning in this City has to be so mutually exclusive. I thought that there was a trend towards more progressive zoning (form based zoning) that allows – and in fact encourages more mixed use and intertwining of compatible uses such as small business and restaurants like Buffalo Joe’s. I understand the desire to place some limits on traditional manufacturing operations and residential uses, but I don’t think that this is what is happening at either Cahill Plumbing or National Awards. Rigid separations make communities less interesting, increase commuting times for employees and otherwise don’t allow a community like ours the opportunity to hold on to some of it’s uniqueness. What is the west side trying to be – certainly not only residential! I think the west side is a unique opportunity to work with some of the existing business that are successful there and enhance their potential to fit into a new vision of neighborhood – a more urban vision with an interesting mix of housing types and business, restaurants, services, etc.. Let’s not encourage successful businesses to leave Evanston (haven’t we done enough of that?), but rather have collaborative meetings to discuss how they could grow or expand in a way that would enhance the neighborhood. Then, build the code around that model.

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