Fact check: Tax exempt land in Evanston

Schools, religious groups and other tax-exempt entities are once again the object of political wrath in Evanston.

Some aldermen are pushing to deny such groups zoning changes if they don’t cough up payments in lieu of taxes. And Wednesday night the Plan Commission voted to deny a religious school’s rezoning request because it would take a former industrial building that’s been vacant for seven years off the tax roles.

So, does Evanston suffer under a uniquely heavy burden of tax exempt properties? And are we being deluged with an invading horde of free-loading do-gooders?

Us versus the neighbors

The answer to the uniquely heavy burden question appears to be no. In 2005 the city’s planning division reported on the proportion of tax exempt land here and in some nearby communities.

In Evanston 44.5 percent of the land was tax exempt. That’s a little more than in Skokie, where the tax exempt percentage is 41.5 percent, and a little less than in Wilmette, where the exempt percentage is 47 percent. (Oak Park, the other community studied, got off easy with only 29 percent of its land tax exempt.)

And of all the tax exempt land in Evanston, three quarters consists of publicly-owned streets, alleys and parks. Only 10.5 percent of the property in Evanston is owned by private tax-exempt entities. About half of that is owned by Northwestern University.

Recent trends

I’ve asked City Planning Director Dennis Marino for information about what changes there’ve been in tax exempt land here since 2005, and hope to get a more comprehensive list soon. But just off-hand we recalled the following changes:

No longer tax exempt

  • Kendall College’s 3.5 acre campus is being returned to the tax rolls after it was bought by a private developer.
  • The less than an acre of National Louis University’s campus in Evanston is being returned to the tax rolls after it was bought by a private developer.
  • The former church on a small lot at 1044 Elmwood Ave. is back on the tax rolls after it was converted to a single family home.

Becoming tax exempt

  • The former office building at 1620 Central St. is being taken off the tax rolls to become the new home of the PACE program run by National Louis.

Swaps in the works

  • The Salvation Army plans to move to a former industrial building at 2425 Oakton St., but plans to sell its current building near downtown, likely for a mixed-use commercial and residential development that would be on the tax rolls.
  • Roycemore School is planning to move from property it leases from tax-exempt Northwestern University to a building now occupied by the tax-exempt Methodist Pension Board, which is moving to Glenview. (The fate of the board’s other Evanston building is not yet determined.)

What other developments in 2005 or later involving privately-owned, tax-exempt land do you recall?

(No, the 1800 Sherman Ave. purchase by Northwestern University doesn’t count. It happened in 2004.)

Once we’ve got a full list we’ll be better able to tell whether we’re being invaded.


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