The Evanston Plan Commission tonight is scheduled to review a city staff proposal that would dramatically reduce the options for most homeowners to expand their homes.

The city now limits the height of buildings in residential zones R1 through R3 to a maximum of 35 feet, or two-and-a-half stories, whichever is less.

For slope-roofed houses height is measured from the ground to a point halfway up the roof slope.

Under the proposed change height would be measured from the ground to the roof peak — which could knock as much as seven feet from allowed peak height of a building and substantially reduce the usable space on the top floor.

The changes would also add new restrictions to the shape of the top half story of a structure, requiring that it use knee walls no more than 3-feet high and barring the use of mansard and gambrel roof types to gain extra height.

And it would reduce the permitted size of side dormers to no more than 30 percent of the length of a wall from the 50 percent permitted now.

On the other hand, the changes would eliminate height penalties now imposed on existing lots that are below current zoning size regulations — permitting owners of those homes to build as high as their neighbors with bigger lots.

Top: An illustration showing the proposed new dormer limits.

Update 7/13/12: After a brief discussion late Wednesday evening, the Plan Commission postponed any action on the proposal until its next meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 8.

Related document

The proposed height limit changes (.pdf)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Way to go—scare more homeowners away/out

    Why does the local government keep wanting to get in theh homeowners business/face ?

    We have enough problems and now they want to restrict the improvements and make homeowners mad.

    If someone wants to build, that is their business—and it would mean higher taxes for them and revenue for the city.

  2. Evanston city leaders are hostile toward the real estate market

    Our city leaders are making things much more difficult in an extremely stressed-out real estate market.

    Why in the world does the Plan Commission want to shrink home expansion options? Have there been complaints? Safety issues? What could possibily be the reason?

    Meanwhile, back at the ranch, a Rental Ordinance Committee has designed an ordinance that would require anyone who wants to rent their property to obtain a license. In order to obtain the license, a city inspector must inspect the property and grant license approval. Then the landlord pays an annual fee and must renew every year. Failure to obtain a rental license could result in a $2500 daily fine. The city manager could revoke a rental license for building code violations. I wonder if this rental ordinance would apply to anyone who wants to rent their condo? The rental ordinance would bring in another $250,000 a year for the city. 

    Last year, two aldermen released to the media a list of landlords who allegedly violated city building codes and the mayor mentioned the errant landlords at a public meeting. After the list was published, it was discovered that none of the landlords were contacted and none of the alleged violations were investigated because there were no violations!!!. No one apologed to the landlords.

    A few years back, the City Council in its infinite wisdom created a demolition tax that requires a $10,000 fee to demolish a home. The money goes to Evanston's Affordable Housing fund as if Evanston needs more affordable housing programs.  Michael and Victoria Kathrein sued Evanston because they claimed the demolition tax harmed the sale of their home, 1925 Jackson. The U.S. 7th Court of Appeals last year wrote that Evanston's demolition tax does decrease the market value of homes. The court case is still ongoing.

    Then of course we have Evanston's unique Green Building ordinance that requires developers of projects of between 10,000 and 20,000 square to feet follow either the LEED rules or meet a set of locally-developed environmental standards. Evanston's city manager said the Green Building Ordinance is a deterrent for developers. "The harsh reality is that none of our neighboring communities have anything like the green building ordinance requirements that Evanston has."

    The Evanston City Council has raised taxes above 10 percent in the last two years, increased all kinds of fees and fines, a gas tax, a demolition tax, a restrictive Green Building ordinance and soon a rental license ordinance and limited home expansion options at a time when we are in the throes of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

    Evanston doesn't just have a reputation as having high taxes – it also has earned a reputation of creating highly restrictive ordinances.

    The single most valuable asset for most Evanstonians is real estate. If you drive away the demand for real estate guess what happens? 

    Perhaps the Council can create more taxes to feed the Affordable Housing Fund and we ALL can live in low-income housing.

    Wake up folks or we will lose more value of our biggest asset.


    1. Let free markets reign!

      Al, I am glad that you are against restrictions on the real estate market.

      I agree that the numerous zoning regulations, taxes, fees, and inspections are burdensome.

      I would like to build an affordable, market-rate, unsubsidized, multi-unit apartment complex in the 7th ward, across the street from your house, Al.   This would satisfy the unmet demand for low-cost housing for the many NU students and Evanston Hospital employees who want to live in that neighborhood.  Unfortunately, Evanston's socialist zoning and traffic  regulations prohibit Job Creators like me from exercising my Constitutional right to do whatever I want with my property.

      Will you join me, Al, in removing all onerous zoning regulations in the 7th ward?

    2. More claws into the housing market.

      "Meanwhile, back at the ranch, a Rental Ordinance Committee has designed an ordinance that would require anyone who wants to rent their property to obtain a license. In order to obtain the license, a city inspector must inspect the property and grant license approval. Then the landlord pays an annual fee and must renew every year. Failure to obtain a rental license could result in a $2500 daily fine. The city manager could revoke a rental license for building code violations. I wonder if this rental ordinance would apply to anyone who wants to rent their condo? The rental ordinance would bring in another $250,000 a year for the city."


      Will this apply to condo owners renting out their units ? to home owners who have to move [business, family] and cannot find a buyer at any wehre close to a reasonable price ?

      Several years ago the city required even condo owners to pay a $25 p/y fee and register with the city.  Then they said condo boards would be responsible to collect the fee and forward it and the list of rented properties to the city.   Then recently an ordiannce sounded like condo owners who rent out their property would have to have their units inspected by the city each year.   Next I assume they will make the condo boards responsible if the owners who rent their property out, don't comply with the prior ordiances.

      The city just keeps digging their claws more and more into the meat of the economy.  Like the eagle who gets its prey and digs in, finally the prey dies.


  3. The City needs to explain the rationale for this

    The City and its Plan Commission nees to explain the rationale for this.  This sounds like it is in response to one complaint.

  4. Great!

    And WHY are they making this specific change?  Anyone?  Is it that last bit about being able to build up to your neighbors heights?

    And I dont know where else to put this so I'll ask here….why does Evanston have such horrible street lights?  I called the city and asked about those and they said:

    1. The current lights are more expensive than the type used in most cities (the overhanging arm)

    2. They require much more maintenace

    3. They provide significantly less light.



    1. You have to look back at the 1700s

      As the old ladies [and mail equivalent] who wanted street lights to make the streets look like the 1700s.  They are still living the myth that Evanston is safe and there is no crime and so street lights don't need to protect us.

    2. Tallmadge lights

      Evanston has the street lights it does because they were designed by a home-town boy, architect Thomas Tallmadge, in the 1920s.

      More about him here.

      Some residents are extremely attached to his design.

      — Bill


      1. Thanks Bill

        I appreciate the info!   Unfortunately, I recently almost (thank goodness) ran over people in three different instances!  Not traveling fast.  Doing a 3-5 count at stop signs, etc. and still find myself driving with my high-beams on at night in the neighborhood (lee st. beach area).  I had my eyes checked less than a year ago and I've got better than 20/20 vision. 

        I guess its just another case of design over function.  And I agree that it would look significantly different/worse with those "chicago style" lights but they do what they're supposed to do and they're less expensive to maintain. 

        Thanks again Bill, keep up the good work!

  5. Revenue issues and limiting potential property tax increases?

    If the city makes this move, it seems it would limit the amount of square footage of living space that could conceivably be added using dormers and thus they are limiting the amount that can be charged via property tax for square feet of living space.  With the current problems we have, wouldn't our city government WANT the additional tax dollars generated by a person who wants to add more square footage of living space via dormers?  Rules get more ridiculous daily around this town.  Obviously, someone in a position of power doesn't like their neighbor's plan to add a dormer and they're trying to head it off at the pass.

  6. Why the change?

    Does anyone know what was the inspriation behind this proposed change?   Why was this brought to the table?


  7. Mixed messages

    I would like to see the City staff do a study that would let us know how many current homes that are protected by landmark/historical status would fit within the proposed guidelines.  On one hand the city loves and protects big beautiful homes with third floor ballrooms that require an unbelievably tedious process to make any exterior alteration.  Now, the city is saying that these homes are not appropriate for our community and should not be possible to build.  The current system is not broken, let's not give anyone another excuse to move to Wilmette.

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