Church ban advances

The Plan Commission voted 5-1 Wednesday night to amend Evanston’s zoning code to ban churches and membership organizations from locating in industrial zones.

The City Council is scheduled to act on the proposal Monday night.

Churches and membership organizations have been permitted as special uses in industrial zones under the zoning code since at least 1993.

City Attorney Jack Siegel has told plan commissioners that changing the code would strengthen the city’s case against an orthodox Jewish day school that has sued over the city’s refusal to grant it a special use permit to operate in the former Shure Incorporated building at 222 Hartrey Ave.

The only vote against the zoning change Wednesday came from Commissioner Seth Freeman who had also voted in favor of the school’s request.

City zoning officials have justified the change on the theory that churches and membership organizations attract large groups of people who might be endangered by exposure to noxious chemicals used in some industrial processes.

But paradoxically the city has also recently changed the zoning code to permit residential uses in some areas that formerly permitted only industrial uses.

In one recent case most of the west side of the 900 block of Pitner Ave. was rezoned MXE, a classification that permits live-work residential uses. That property is just across the street from I2 industrial zoned property that would be affected by the zoning change now under consideration.

No one appeared at the Plan Commission meeting Wednesday to oppose the change, or at an earlier session on Aug. 12, when the proposal was discussed but not voted on.

The zoning change would mean that two existing churches in industrial zones, the Vineyard Christian Fellowship, 2495 Howard St., and the Mount Zion Apostolic Church, 2101 Dempster St., likely would not be able to expand or rebuild if their properties were destroyed.

We tried to reach Zoning Administrator Bill Dunkley this morning to ask him about the impact on other religious or membership organization located in industrial zones, but haven’t received a call-back yet.

Groups that might appear to be affected by the change would include:

* The Salvation Army, which has been planning a move from its downtown Evanston location to a site zoned for industrial use at 2425 Oakton St.

* Prayer Garden Ministries, a church located in an industrial building at 1275 Hartrey Ave.

* The Music Institute of Chicago, which has its Evanston-West campus in an industrial building at 2008 Dempster St.

* The Evanston Community Media Center, a membership-based non-profit, located at 1285 Hartrey Ave.

Aldermen have objected to the expansion of churches and other non-profit uses on industrially zoned land because they remove the property from the tax rolls.

But at the same time the city has had difficulty attracting new industrial users to vacant industrial property as industrial firms increasingly seek larger parcels of open land than Evanston has available and better access to freeways and airports.

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