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)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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6 Comments

  1. Seriously, do we need 2 Aldi’s in one block?

    While I think that the initial ordinance was fine, kudos to the council for working out a reasonable compromise.

    If this company can't meet pretty simple and cheap guidelines that suggests that either its financials are weak or that it is trying to suck out concessions from the city to get the taxpayers to subsidize some of the costs associated with the site.

    There are PLENTY of places in town where they can set up shop (Borders' buildings?).  The city should be pushing infill development anyway.

    Furthermore, what does this business even offer? It appears to be an Aldi clone.  That stretch of Oakton is already abysmal from a design and traffic management perspective.  The Green Building ordinance actually makes sure that companies like Gordon Foods don't negatively-impact the city's air/water quality.

    If they want the taxpayers to subsidize their externalities, we should say, "Good Riddance."

    I find it utterly irresponsible for an Alderman to say we should subsidize a private developer to remediate environmental problems on a parcel.  Polluters should pay for their actions.  If the developer is currently violating any environmental/property standards provisions they really should be fined as opposed to rewarded.

    1. Seriously, we do need it.

      The green ordinance is not really "simple" and it's certainly not "cheap" and stating that it is "pretty simple and cheap" is not an accurate portrayal of what is really required to achieve leed of any level.  I am not bashing the green ordinance but most who have built to that standard never use the words "cheap and simple" as descriptors of what the process entails because from experience they know better. 

      Nor is it fair to say they have a faulty business model or to accuse a company of trying to "suck out concessions from the city and get the taxpayers to subsidize" cost. 

      My understanding is they did not ask for one dime from the local taxpayer and they, the developer, not you or the taxpayer, are willing and able to clean up that mess left by someone else and thereby improve our community.

      In fact, I say lets do support them every which way we can in cleaning up and developing that site.  Lets support that developer because not only will they clean up a mess, over a few  short years they will also pay to Evanston millions of dollars in R.E. taxes, they will generate hundreds of thousands in sales tax revenue, and they will pay millions and millions in payroll to people who really need jobs to support their families here in Evanston. 

      BTW,if you don't know what the business even offers why don't you find out first before going on that it "appears to be an Aldi clone"  Pretty simple and cheap research shows they are no Aldi clone.

  2. Ordinance aside, it’s not an Aldi

    As a GFS Marketplace customer who has to drive to Palatine, I can assure you GFS is not Aldi. It's perhaps more like a mini Sam's Club or Costco without the membership fees and the stigma of a company like Walmart as a parent. (GFS is a privately held Michigan-based company.) The target audience are food businesses and organizations as much as individual consumers. We certainly have those customers in this area and they are not shopping at Aldi!

    I think an important part of the point of the story the comment above missed is the environmental problems on the site are from a previous developer. Some of us recall that the Home Depot/Petsmart/Aldi site was Rustoleum's plant and had environmental remediation issues. I think that developer got a break in handling those problems, if someone wishes to do the research.

    I've always wanted to hold on to manufacturing, but the reality in Evanston today is that steel companies (former owner of the site in question) and paint companies like Rustoleum are not staying in Evanston. The development we've seen on Oakton in this area is not so bad when you look at the historic use of these sites.

    1. Is it a Superfund site?

      What exactly are the environmental problems with the site?

      All we get is Ald. Rainey's  flippantly unhelpful "slime pond."

      If there are some type of toxins on the site wherein public health and safety are put at risk it should be designated as a Superfund site.  The city should go through the process of listing it on the National Priorities List. This allows the Feds to force whoever owns it and/or polluted it  to clean it up.  

      In fact, if there really ARE serious environmental problems at the site and people are saying we should forget about them to put a mini Sam's Club in, that is extremely irresponsible. 

      If it does not meet the requirements to be a Superfund site, the city can require that debris be moved and appropriate ground cover to be planted to avoid the development of a  "slime pond."

      Basically we should separate any existing environmental problems at the site with the proposed development.  If there are legitimate environmental problems there they should be dealt with immediately.

      The Rustoleum redevelopment is irrelevant here.  Just because some developer was given some concessions at one site doesn't mean that we should give handouts to every developer who knocks on the door. 

      And actually, whatever you want to say about WalMart, they have upped their sustainability credentials in recent years.  Do they still have problems? Yes. But they have recognized the need to reduce the carbon footprint of their stores and suppliers. 

      If this Wal-Mart lite wants to follow the law, let them in–if not, there is no benefit to the taxpayers for subsidizing a redundant store.

  3. Who owns the land?

    Shouldn't the current property owner be responsible for fixing its problems?  Who currently owns the land?

  4. Evanston officials giving city a business unfriendly reputation

    I know it's a long arduous process to get LEED certified. But the million dollar question is what are the "set of locally-developed environmental standards" Gordon Foods must meet?

    I think the evidence is clearly showing that this green ordinance is an obstacle businesses are not interested in meeting. No other city has such an ordinance.

    And I ask, how will Evanston save the planet with this ordinance? This green movement is a fad and it is questionable whether it has any noticeable effect on the environment or a reduction in energy consumption. The timing of this green ordinance is atrocious, during a prolonged severe Recession.

    Evanston's green committee and the City Council adopted a green ordinance that is punitive in nature. A better approach clearly would have been to reward companies who adopt green standards or entice companies to go green through competition and recognition.

    The City Council adopts a restrictive, punitive and costly green ordinance and appears to have a strict and tough attitude toward other businesses such as the Tilted Kilt who are interested in opening shop in Evanston and we wonder why businesses are backing away or moving out of Evanston.

    When the mayor and other City Council members two months ago held a press conference outside the AJ Wright store in an attempt to urge its owner to rebrand rather than close, it seemed to me that it was an unprofessional cheap publicity stunt. Did it work? Nope.

    There are some things I think the city are doing correctly to promote business growth but the overall effort and results are poor. Enacting restrictive ordinances and raising city and gas taxes and utilities and other fees are not the solution to our economic crisis.

    Perhaps it's time we elect quality business professionals to operate our city.

    I only wonder how many are left.

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