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Recap: Planning and Development Committee

Here's a recap of our live coverage of this evening's Evanston City Council Planning and Development Committee meeting.

Here’s a recap of our live coverage of this evening’s Evanston City Council Planning and Development Committee meeting.

The meeting is scheduled to start at 5:40 p.m.

A packet with information on tonight’s agenda items is available online.

The committee is scheduled to consider introduction of an ordinance that would landmark the Christian Science church at 2715 Hurd Ave. and to discuss a possible tree protection ordinance and issues around rental licensing, property maintenance violations and possible changes to the nuisance premise ordinance.

Meeting called to order at 5:43 p.m.

Public Comment
Three speakers object to proposed new landlord restrictions.
Carlis Sutton says landlords get no respect.
Six people who had signed up to speak on the landmarking issue — but opt to wait until the next meeting.

P1 – 2715 Hurd landmarking
Held at the request of Ald. Tom Suffredin (6th) until the Aug. 9 meeting.

D1 – Tree preservation

Dave Stoneback, public works director, says there’s no change to the ordinance at this point.

Emily Okallau, public services coordinator, says proposal would require permit for removal of trees on private property.

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) says should have more involvement of the Environment Board in the public outreach. Stoneback says happy to meet with the Environment Board as first step n outreach.

Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) asks about time frame. Stoneback says September through November, with additional meeting in January and a proposal back to Council in February or March 2022.

Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) wants more explicit criteria for denial or approval, beyond diameter. Stoneback says will do based on different classes of tree.

Chair Melissa Wynne (3rd) says “many of us are interested in this” looking forward to the discussion.

D2 – Rental regulations

Johanna Nyden, community development director, says the proposal is response to a referral from several aldermen and also ties into the Plan Commission discussion of changes to housing occupancy rules.

Says looking to expand things that would trigger the nuisance premises ordinance, landlord licensing and increasing fees. Says current fees are just seen as a “cost of doing business.”

Says don’t have detailed proposals tonight. Wants to have robust engagement process to make sure are solving the problem.

Kelly says agrees with landlord speakers at public comment that should “think outside the box,” but sees frequent issues with absentee landlord. Says landlords who live here don’t create the same problems.

Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) asks what happened with the previous discussion of landlord licensing, some years ago.

Sarah Flax, housing and grants manager, says she wasn’t involved in the prior discussion, in about 2012. Nyden says there was discussion of three unrelated in 2018. Flax says there was a major change to the nuisance premises ordinance in 2016. Says acted to exclude police calls related to domestic violence and mental illness from issues that would trigger the ordinance.

Nieuwsma asks about difference between license and registration (what’s required now).

Nyden says registration just identifies the unit. Says generally people fix the problem when its brought to their attention.

License is different in that could revoke it if landlord doesn’t follow the rules.

Says if raised fees it would make it possible to pay for more inspectors.

Nyden says could reduce rates for properties in CDBG target areas, or that otherwise serve low income residents.

Flax says is an issue with federal voucher programs that require separate inspections beyond the ones done by the city.

Ald. Devon Reid (8th) says concerned that licensing program could lead to racial discrimination — landlords be less likely to rent to people of color.

Wants to collect more data from annual licensing reports. Wants to know vacancy rates and what charging for rents.

Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) asks whether property standards violations could lead to revocation of license or only nuisance issues.

Nyden says hasn’t worked that out yet. Says focus is on creating safe units for people to inhabit, but also address the issues of behavior that create challenges for neighbors.

Burns says revoking license is more useful. Says some landlords are creating problems, are bad actors, need something enforceable. Says at least once as week hears from somebody who’s considering renting out of town because they’re dealing with property standards issues that haven’t been fixed.

Kelly says can’t revoke registration. Wants a committee to examine everything from licensing, three-person, look at holistically. (Of course there’s already been years of discussion on the subject.)

Nyden suggests in the past has been creation of subcommittees.

Kelly makes referral, which will go to referrals committee. Wynne says would be helpful to have that. Sees staff report as one step in the process. Says were a lot of concerns in the past about rental licensing, but need some permanent, lasting process, that will target repeat offenders with a penalty that will impact them.

Reid says if get a license revoked, can’t just form an LLC and get new license. Also asks how would apply to property management companies.

Nyden says the license would apply to the unit. Whether ownership changes. A new owner could apply for a new license.

Reid says the problem is students, right? Nyden says it’s absentee landlords.

Wynne says don’t want to penalize people who are living safely in units in building where there’s one unit that’s a problem. But asks at what point do stop paying whack-a-mole with landlords and revoke all their licenses.

Meeting adjourned at 6:46 p.m.

City Council to start at 6:55 p.m.

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