‘Green’ vote leaves food store in doubt

Evanston aldermen voted Monday to approve amendments to the city's Green Building Ordinance but continue talks with a would-be developer who has argued the rules are too stringent.

The city has been negotiating with Gordon Food Service, which is considering building one of its Marketplace retail stores on land at 2424 Oakton St.

The firm has said it can't afford to meet provisions of the ordinance that would require new commercial buildings to achieve LEED silver standards.

In response city officials and local environmentalists last month hammered out a compromise that would let developers of projects of between 10,000 and 20,000 square feet follow either the LEED rules or meet a set of locally-developed environmental standards.

But representatives of the developer late last week said the new plan wouldn't result in any significant cost savings.

Alderman Ann Rainey, whose 8th Ward includes the Oakton Street site, said the property has substantial environmental issues that the developer will have to remediate but current city rules won't give him any reward for doing that.

She said those problems include a storm water detention area required by the city for an earlier, never completed planned development that's turned into what she called a "slime pond," and rubble from previous demolition work that a prior developer buried rather than carting away.

She said the city appears to be sending a message "that we're totally inflexible."

Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said the food store project would be a great one for the community, but that the amended ordinance represented a real compromise and that she was disappointed that it doesn't appear the developer is willing to go ahead with it.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said the city should be able to assign some value to cleaning up the environmental issues with the land and that the City Council should have an opportunity to review that.

"I'd hate to have this developer leave," Fiske said, "As far as I know, they haven't come to us to ask for any money."

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said he supported adopting the amended ordinance, but the wanted city staff to continue talks with the developer to consider modifications along the lines of what Rainey and Fiske had suggested.

Gordon Food Service, which is primarily a wholesale distributor to restaurants and other food retailers, now operates a chain of retail outlets in several states which serve food service professionals and private households.

It currently has four of its Marketplace stores, which are roughly 15,000 square feet, in other Chicago suburbs.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the project — the first development that would be affected by the year-old green building ordinance — presents a very difficult issue — balancing two of the city's strategic goals — of following its climate action plan and stimulating economic development.

"The harsh reality," Bobkiewicz said, "is that none of our neighboring communities have anything like the green building ordinance requirements that Evanston has. Developers can go to Skokie, Niles, Northbrook or Wilmette and not have to deal with them."

Related document

Green building ordinance as amended (.pdf)

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