Evanston’s Land Use Commission late Wednesday voted 5-3 to recommend that the City Council approve a rooming house special use permit application to continue use of the Margarita Inn as a homeless shelter.

The vote came after a four-and-a-half hour hearing with more than 30 residents testifying about the proposal from Connections for the Homeless for the former hotel at 1566 Oak Ave.

District 65 social worker Allie Harned was among the T-shirt wearing supporters of the shelter special use request.

Testimony from residents was sharply split. Some — including several wearing custom T-shirts to show their support for the project — praised the work of the non-profit group and insisted that the shelter was very much needed in the city.

But others argued that shelter residents have disrupted the neighborhood and Connections has done a poor job of managing the facility in the more than two years it has run it.

The commissioners included a total of 17 conditions on their recommendation for approval of the special use.

The three commissioners who voted against the proposal said they felt the shelter would have a negative cumulative impact on the neighborhood and would diminish the value of property in the neighborhood.

During the meeting, city staff indicated that they are changing their approach to developing a licensing ordinance — also envisioned as part of the shelter approval process — from one that initially would have focused on licensing standards just for homeless shelters to one that would apply to all rooming houses in the city.

Assistant City Attorney Alexandra Ruggie said that change is likely to mean the City Council won’t get a draft of the revised licensing ordinance to review until some time in January.

She also said that efforts to develop a “Good Neighbor Agreement” have stalled because neighborhood residents opposed to the project have declined to participate and residents who support the project haven’t felt it was appropriate for them to claim to represent the neighborhood as signatories to an agreement.

In addition, Ruggie said, the city has been reluctant to get involved in the good neighbor agreement because it won’t have a mechanism the city could use to enforce it.

As a result, she said, city staff is now recommending that Connections issue a “Good Neighbor Declaration” on its own, encompassing issues that were raised during meetings held to attempt to hammer out the agreement.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Unfortunately, last evening’s Land Use Commission meeting was hijacked by Connections and their woefully homogenous supporters and turned into another Connections telethon, this time focused on shaming and guilting and scolding the Commission members into making the right moral, humanitarian, equity, race, diverse decision in granting the special use permit to operate at Margarita. Further shocking is that religion was also introduced as a card.

    As the Head of the Commission stated at the beginning of the meeting, their purview is ZONING AND LAND USE. Unfortunately the majority of the meeting was spent (by both those in favor and those opposed) attempting to educate us on the homelessness crisis, how Connections is “solving” this problem for Evanston, and how Connections has been missing the mark on running a successful operation at Margarita Inn.

    I applaud the three members of the Commission that voted NO, sticking to their mission as members of the Land Use Commission and rightfully applying the criteria for their decision.

    Noticeably missing from Connections marketing campaign materials is what would happen if there was an incident at Margarita Inn rendering the facility unusable for an extended period of time? Connections claims their participants have “no other place to go” and would be on the streets if the Commission didn’t approve their request for special use.

    Let’s hope that the City Council considers this “what if” and also listens to ALL residents when the decision is theirs to approve or deny this special use/zoning variance.

  2. It was somewhat “amusing” (again!) to see Betty Bogg and Tina White get “flustered” when some of the Commission members delved into more pointed and detailed questions about their management of the Margarita Inn. They should be able to deftly answer these queries, instead of freezing up in a “deer in the headlights” stance; would *you* trust either of them to successfully manage a business – even something as elemental as a lemonade stand…??? Even in a non – profit, you should *absolutely* “know your metrics” and be able to explain them, not get tongue – tied when someone asks you basic operational questions…

    On the plus side, I was mightily impressed with the acuity of LUC Commission member Kristine Westerberg. We need *many* more like her in government, she is the “real deal”. A big “thank you” also to those who spoke in opposition to the acquisition, you made your cases well… Mr. Halim especially, as he explained how the Margarita is directly affecting the operation of his adjacent Time & Glass Museum. The Museum is a unique and terrific thing for us to have in Evanston; it is also a source of revenue for the Halim family, who I know give very generously to organizations serving those in need. These are the kind of “good citizens” any community should be eager to have – but here in Evanston, the “powers that be” are I guess intent on driving them away…

    1. Mr Morrow—-you continue to be a level headed common sense voice regarding this issue—-your opposition to the Connections / Margarita plan is much appreciated by myself and others who’ve already seen the many problems thats occurred during Connection use of the property…It’s one thing to consider a resident that’s successfully used the facility under Connections direction, but it’s clearly obvious for every resident step forward, there’s three resident steps backwards—-that ratio is a ballpark figure but it’s close enough and something that must be looked at for what it is—-a dangerous environment of far too many problems for neighbors and residents…for those supporting said plan I humbly ask you consider the possibility of Connections not being what they advertise themselves as—-or from a different perspective, when Betty Bogg and the rest of those involved at Connections are willing to live next door to one of their facilities, then I’ll stop opposing—-but that day is never coming…as for next step, one can only hope the city council does the right thing in representing the best interests of tax paying residents—-but I’m not very hopeful and I don’t think many alders are willing to live next door to a Connections facility either

      1. Maybe we can get all those people who voted in favor to buy us out and donate the homes to Connections to use in their programs?
        I’d be REALLY interested in that happening.

  3. I was a speaker last night, and argued that the current draft of the license provides the city with little ability to ensure that the Margarita Inn is managed in a way that’s beneficial to the city and neighborhood, and was glad that several Commissioners agreed. It was troubling to hear that city staff wants to turn the license into a general one for all rooming houses, which will make it even less stringent (e.g., no stipulations on staffing, reporting, and so on). As Connections pointed out, it is dealing with a particularly vulnerable population in need of social services, so why would you not craft a license that acknowledges this? It makes no sense to me: they’re setting up the potential for another Albany Care, where we’re powerless to enact improvement.

    1. Thank you, John, for your measured and reasonable points last night. Margarita supporters get all swept up in the “emotion” of the issue, talking in pleasant platitudes, e.g. “Everyone deserves a home… it should break your heart when you see a homeless person in winter on the street… as a city, Evanston should look into it’s *heart* to solve the homeless problem”… I get that, it can be an emotional issue…

      But they ignore the practical issues, e.g. proper screening of potential Margarita guests, rampant substance abuse, the design of a robust program to get – and *keep* – homeless folks from becoming homeless again. Do Betty Bogg and Interfaith Action even *think* of the adjacent property/business owners, that *they* are the ones that pay the taxes that generously fund Connections…???

      This is the MO of modern social work, the failed “Do No Harm” and “Housing First” models, which simply perpetuate the homeless issue and keep people in a state of constant childlike dependence…

      When I worked at the Margarita this past Spring, I chastised a guest for not wearing their required face mask; I was not “mean” about it. Yet I got taken to task by one of the social workers, was informed that I could not *tell* someone to do something, that I had to “negotiate” with them, as that is their “Do No Harm” model. Basically, no one is responsible for their own actions – an extremely infantilizing and eventually destructive MO…

  4. What I found most concerning was the allegation that Connections is allowing dealers to deliver drugs to the Margarita participants. This is something that must be vetted by the City of Evanston. There are laws in Illinois that would permit a civil action against Connections for allowing this (and Micheal Pure as the owner of the Inn). Plus, such conduct (if true) could be considered tortious interference of business to the museum next door and the rental unit on the other side.

    1. When I worked there last Spring, it was common knowledge amongst Margarita staff that at least one guest was dealing not only to other guests, but also to clients of Peer Services, the methadone clinic on Davis. But under Connection’s “Do No Harm” MO, we are not supposed to “judge”… which is a major reason that I quickly ended my employment with them. BTW, I just saw the guy on Davis the other day, apparently he has no “plan” to “move on” – he’s now been at the Margarita for eighteen months. How can I blame him, he lives responsibility – free in very nice digs. Maybe I should visit him at his room in the Margarita to soak up some of his free premium cable TV – something that I don’t have: while there I could also drop off my laundry, as he has nice free laundry service. Sweet life…!!!

    2. Hahaha, like the management of Connections doesn’t know?? Of course they do. We in the neighborhood aren’t effin idiots. WE know, and this is just what we can see from the outside!

      I’ve personally seen two “trades” being done in the immediate neighborhood and reported it to the police with photos. White car rolling up to the corner, a 3-second transaction, done. Dead drop in a paper bag in the bushes of the building, done.

      The police know, too, and it’s probably small-time stuff: a little pot, a little coke, etc. It’s probably not organized crime or anything major.

      But I’m guessing this is why Connections wouldn’t let police in the building, even when there were calls. They don’t want anyone to find out about the drugs.

      I’m disgusted because supplying a permissive environment with drugs, alcohol, etc is not going to get anyone’s dignity back.

    3. I have many eye witness accounts of drug deals within 50′ of the Inn doorway.
      I tried to memorize plates of the white SUV that pulls up quite often, but I haven’t yet.
      I’m sure I’m not the only one.

  5. Having attended the session of the Land Use Commission determining the fate of the Margarita Inn, I took great issue with some of those opposed. For example, as a real estate agent, I found the concerns regarding declining property values in the neighborhood of the Inn to be totally false. “Quotes”from the National Assn of Realtors were decidedly questionable as were the expressed now “required” reduced neighborhood rental rates. Let’s see the books, gentlemen!

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