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Candidates say city needs ‘complete overhaul’ of zoning

Most candidates running for alderman in the 6th and 7th Wards say they agree with mayor-elect Daniel Biss that the city needs to completely overhaul its zoning code.

Tom Suffredin and Katie Trippi.

Most candidates running for alderman in the 6th and 7th Wards say they agree with mayor-elect Daniel Biss that the city needs to completely overhaul its zoning code.

The proposals for change have largely focused on eliminating the large lot-size requirements and prohibition on multi-family units that distinguish the city’s R1 zoning districts.

Katie Trippi, running for 6th Ward alderman, said she believes a lot of social equities and environmental equities can be achieved through zoning reforms. But “we’ll need a very large table with many people present” to work out the reform measures, Trippi added.

Tom Suffredin, the incumbent 6th Ward alderman, said a tall single family home is being built just across the alley from his house that — if zoning were changed — could accommodate three dwelling units.

With many Evanstonians aspiring to age in place, Suffredin said, there’s a need for more smaller housing units to facilitate that.

Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, said, “I do think we need a complete overhaul, and need to do it with an equity and affordability lens.”

“We need to allow more types of housing and smaller lot sizes so we can have affordable housing in all parts of Evanston,” Revelle said, adding, “Right now the zoning code is a pretty exclusive document.”

But 7th Ward candidate Mary Rosinski, a real estate broker, expressed some misgivings.

While she said she’s always liked coach houses, which the City Council has dramatically expanded options for in the past few years, Evanstonians should have “no illusion” that changing zoning to allow greater density “is going to create affordable housing.”

“Just take a step down to Wrigleyville” in Chicago, where condos, she said, are selling for $1 million. Higher density, she added, “doesn’t make life better or more affordable.”

(A search for condos for sale today on Redfin turned up listings priced from $198,000 to $949,000.)

Eliminating single-family zoning has become a popular cause in some progressive communities recently. The City Council in Berkeley, California, passed a resolution last month denouncing the “racist history of single-family zoning” and launching a two-year process designed to eliminate it.

Minneapolis started down that road a few years earlier and now permits two- and three-unit dwellings where previously only single-family dwellings had been allowed.

Eleanor Revelle and Mary Rosinski.

Asked Wednesday night during the forum sponsored by the Central Street Neighbors Association about the closing of the North Branch library, Revelle said the library closure generated the most emails she’d ever received as alderman.

“I called every member of the library board prior to their vote to urge them to consider keeping the space open,” Revelle said, “but I think the board was ready to make that decision before I even called them.”

Rosinski said she’d worked for 10 years with a group dedicated to keeping the branches open. Of the closing, she said, “I don’t think it was a great decision.”

Suffredin said that, given the independence of the library board, the decision “was not something I as an alderman had any input or control over.” He suggested one way to move forward would be to establish free public wi-fi at Independence Park, across Central Street from the former library site.

Trippi said the closure “is a sad loss for our neighborhood, but I’m really excited about the new library at the Robert Crown Center.” The library board had used the opening of the new branch and budgetary constraints as reasons for closing the branch on Central and one on Chicago Avenue.

“I’m excited that there’s a big beautiful library now in a more accessible neighborhood,” Trippi added. The closure decision, she said, “was made by responsible people who were not wishing ill on north Evanston,” and it is important that such decisions be made “with a lens of equity for the entire community.”

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