The Margarita Inn, 1566 Oak Ave. (Google Maps image)

Evanston city officials now say the Margarita Inn at 1566 Oak Ave. operated as a hotel in violation of the city’s zoning code for more than a quarter century.

In a letter this week to an attorney for Connections for the Homeless, which hopes to purchase the building for permanent use as a homeless shelter, Zoning Administrator Melissa Klotz says a rooming house special use permit issued for the building in 1974 expired after the building was converted to hotel use in 1994.

Klotz notes that the city approved structural changes made to the building for the purpose of using it as a hotel but adds that zoning records during that time period “are nearly non-existent” and that “full zoning reviews were not done, which is highly unusual.”

A hotel is defined in the city’s zoning code as “a building in which lodging is offered with or without meals principally to transient guests and that provides a common entrance, lobby, halls and stairways.”

Hotels are not included in the list of permitted or special uses in the R6 zoning district that includes the Margarita site.

A rooming house use is allowed as a special use in the R6 zone, and Klotz’s letter says “current operations by Connections or the Homeless do comply with the zoning definition for a Rooming House.”

The zoning code defines a rooming house as “a building or portion thereof containing lodging rooms that accommodate more than three persons who are not members of the keeper’s family, and where lodging, excluding food service, is provided for compensation, whether direct or indirect.”

Neighbors objecting to the shelter have argued that it does not comply with the rooming house definition because Connections does provide food service to the shelter’s residents.

Connections for the Homeless has been using the Margarita Inn for the past two years as a shelter for those experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Klotz says Connections needs to apply for a new rooming house special use permit which will require “a public hearing with the Land Use Commission and a final determination by the City Council.”

Some neighbors have said the Margarita has been a nuisance, with trouble caused by some residents.

However, Sue Loellebach, director of advocacy for Connections, says the facility has tried to be a good neighbor, and wants to “create a pact with the community to define expectations and procedures,” so Margarita Inn residents are respectful of those who live nearby, and problems such as littering or panhandling are dealt with.

Connections also says that many of the police runs to the Inn were self-generated by the police department, and not a result of resident misbehavior.

Nia Tavoularis, Connections’ development director, told Evanston Now that the problem of homelessness in Evanston is only going to get worse as housing prices increase, and as the community still recovers from COVID-19.

“It’s better for them to have a place to stay than to sleep outdoors,” Tavoularis says of those experiencing homelessness.

Tavoularis says at any given time in North Suburban Cook County, which includes Evanston, an average of 188 beds are needed so the homeless do not have to sleep outdoors.

And, Connections says, the waiting list for the Margarita is more than 50 people on a typical day.

Connections also says the average stay at the Inn is 10 months. The goal, Connections adds, is not permanent housing at the hotel, but a plan for self-sufficiency and moving out.

The Margarita Inn residents, Connections officials say, will not be evicted just because the special use permit is no longer valid, while the zoning process plays out.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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5 Comments

  1. We should know how many of the needed 188 beds are already located in Evanston

    While we need to do our part in handling the problems of the north part of Cook
    County we should not carry the whole load.

    1. I agree. With Connections being so prominent, other suburbs are just going to depend on us, especially if there’s a facility this big with room to spare. The Margarita neighborhood already carries a heavy social services burden (soup kitchens in several churches, methadone clinic by the train tracks, Albany Care, assisted living…)

    2. Most certainly agree. Connections is soliciting other municipalities to, presumably, import homeless into Evanston. Evanston’s homeless rate is twice that of Chicago already.

  2. I’ve lived window facing to this building at 1570 Oak Ave for the last 22 months. It has been an absolute nightmare. I have been able to watch the residents jugging liters of hard alcohol through their window, have had to call the police well over 10 ten times because women were screaming. I have walked into the building during the day time to ask what the heck is going on and have been physically reprimanded to leave the building just by bringing but that I can’t sleep at night. This has been EVERY single time I have walked into the building and have approached everyone respectfully. The majority of the individuals everyone sees in the community begging in front of Bennison’s, Target, the Jewel off of Dempster, live in this building. If the building needs to be a care home for the homeless, they need to be implementing laws about consuming alcohol in order to live there. It’s just another step of wokeness being taken too far. ObamaCare exists for a reason. The US medical health care system is legally obliged to identify these individuals, and hold them against their free will because they don’t individually possess it to take care of themselves.

  3. “Connections also says that many of the police runs to the Inn were self-generated by the police department, and not a result of resident misbehavior.” This doesn’t sound accurate. Secondly, how could anyone with any common sense believe this place will not increase crime, drugs, panhandling, etc. in our beautiful city that we’ve invested. Enough with these social experiments! Homelessness is an unfortunate aspect of our society, but when you invite a larger homeless population, you also invite more crime. With a police force that is down approximately 25% this just doesn’t make sense. Why not build the connections facilities in Glencoe if you really want to promote diversity and inclusion.

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