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City considers hardship relief from ‘green’ rules

Evanston aldermen Monday voted to introduce an ordinance that would create a hardship exemption from the city's green building ordinance.

But they promised to have staff consult with activists on the city's Environment Board about revising the proposal before it comes up for a final vote in two weeks.

Evanston aldermen Monday voted to introduce an ordinance that would create a hardship exemption from the city's green building ordinance.

But they promised to have staff consult with activists on the city's Environment Board about revising the proposal before it comes up for a final vote in two weeks.

Paige Finnegan of 525 Elmwood Ave., the co-chair of the Environment Board, complained the board hadn't been consulted about the proposed changes to the year-old ordinance, which took several years to draft in the first place.

And she said the proposed revision was "completely unsatisfactory."

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said that, because of the weak economy, no development projects that would fall under the ordinance have been proposed since it was adopted.

But, he said, in recent months the city has started to receive inquiries.

One project, which Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, described as a free-standing retail development of between 10,000 and 20,000 square feet (but not a Trader Joe's, she hastened to add) is now getting fairly far "down the road," Bobkiewicz said.

He said the developer is concerned that with the green building ordinance in its existing form costs in Evanston are too high, compared to the cost of building a similar store in neighboring communities.

The developer "is looking for some clear understanding of the city's position by the end of February," he added.

"They're not pulling our chain," Bobkiewicz said, "They are serious and have to make a business decision."

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said it appears that for some types of buildings — retail in particular — it is more difficult to meet existing green building standards than it would be for office buildings or residential construction.

Alderman Coleen Burrus complained that the revisions "are being railroaded through without considering input from expert local residents."

She said it appeared that the city was "showing favoratism for people who can hire expensive attorneys."

But Rainey said, "nobody's crooked here, and the applicant doesn't even have an attorney."

The debate focused attention on conflicting pressures on the council over encouraging economic development in a tough economy while also trying to be responsive to environmental concerns.

Rainey said, "a vacant lot is the greenest site of all," but it doesn't do anything to create jobs.

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