The would-be developer of a property at 1513-15 Greenleaf St. brought new, fully zoning-compliant plans for the project to a city committee Wednesday, but faced opposition from several nearby residents.

Developer Karla Thomas.

Karla Thomas had previously requested special use approval from the city to build two single-family homes on the 50-foot wide property, but that plan — also opposed by some neighbors — was rejected by the Zoning Board of Appeals.

A map from the city website showing the 1513-15 Greenleaf site outlined in red. The purple tint shows B1 zoning, the bright yellow tint shows R3 residential zoning.

That block of Greenleaf is zoned B1, for business uses, but roughly half the existing structures on the block are single family homes with substantial front yards, while many of the rest are old commercial buildings which were built to the lot line.

A rendering of one of the planned live-work dwellings.

The new plan Thomas presented to the Design and Project Review Committee calls for two live-work structures on the lot that would be sold as condominiums and would share a handicap-accessible ramp to their ground floor office spaces.

Under the new design, the lower level would be 60 percent above ground — making it qualify under the zoning code as the main first level of the building.

Except for that — and a switch from a traditional gable roof to a contemporary flat-roof design — the new plans are remarkably similar to the previous proposal.

A rendering of the previous proposal rejected by the Zoning Board of Appeals.

But because ground floor commercial with residential uses above it is permitted by right under B1 zoning, the project no longer requires review by the Zoning Board of Appeals or the City Council and the condominium form of ownership means replatting of the parcel, which would require City Council approval, is not needed either.

Some of the neighbors who objected to the proposal at the DAPR meeting Wednesday.

One neighbor, Elizabeth Lambros of 1028 Wesley Ave.,said the new plan would create a “Frankenlot” — part residential, part commercial.

Others said they didn’t object to a live-work setup if it was “true” live-work — suggesting the structures would more likely actually be used as single family homes.

Several neighbors said the new project should have to have the same front-yard setback as other single family homes on the block. Thomas has proposed a setback that would equal the average setback of all the buildings on the block — although no setback is required under B1 zoning.

At least some of the neighbors seemed to strongly prefer that only one new single-family home be built on the site, but Thomas said there was no way to do a financially-viable development of the property with just one home.

The city was faced with a similar question of how to redevelop a derelict commercial property on a B1 zoned site in a mostly residential neighborhood nearly a decade ago a half mile to the north at Lake Street and Ashland Avenue.

The northeast corner of Lake and Ashland in 2007 in an image from Google Maps.

The old Drummer Drapery building and an adjoining structure were ultimately redeveloped with seven live-work townhomes, with roughly a five-foot setback from the lot line.

The northeast corner of Lake and Ashland in a 2011 Google Maps image.

Thomas said that as three of those units have come on the market for resale in recent years they’ve sold rapidly — in 10 days or less. By contrast, she said, more conventional storefront buildings in older mixed residential and commercial areas have lingered on the market unsold.

She argued that there’s a strong and growing demand among independent professional workers for live-work structures where they can meet with clients without having to lead them through the clutter of their living space, but still avoid having to commute to work.

Mark Muenzer and Dominic Latinovic.

Two DAPR members, Chair Mark Muenzer and Vice-Chair Dominic Latinovic, voted against the new proposal.

Muenzer suggested the proposal looks like a residential structure and suggested redesigning it to look more like a commercial use. He argued that the design doesn’t meet the intent of the zoning code.

But the committee’s other five members voted in favor of the project.

Wednesday’s meeting was for a preliminary review of the proposal. It still requires another session before DAPR to get final approval.

Thomas agreed to meet further with neighbors in the meantime to try to find a compromise that would be more satisfactory to them.

Related story

Two homes planned to replace vacant storefronts (4/18/16)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Sure looks like an existing building

    Look at the second house south west of Leonard on Wesley.

    Sometimes it seems somebody will complain about anything someone wants to build on their own property.

    1. I am one of the residents who
      I am one of the residents who is complaining about the proposed development.

      If I am looking at the correct picture on Google maps, the house you reference on the west side of Wesley, 2 doors south of Leonard, would be just fine. I feel most of my neighbors would agree.

      Looking at the set back from the street your house matches all other buildings on the block. The side set backs are similar to all the properties on the block. All great.

      And yes, it actually does look like the picture in the article.


      The major – and it is major – difference here between your example and the developer’s plan is that your example shows a single building on the lot (50 foot)?

      Unfortunately the developer has publicly stated she cannot make enough money on just one building.

      She proposes two identical 3 bedroom buildings on a single 50′ plot (hence all set backs, side and to the street, will be very slight) and distinctly different from all other residential properties on the street. The picture in the article shows one building similar to your Wesley example. Think of that as doubled but built on only one lot. It is overbuilt for what are to be (primarily) residences, being inserted between actual residences – but are being marketed as live/work so as to get around and cherry pick the codes to be followed. We have a B1 block here.

      This wouldn’t be a discussion if the developer was submitting her plans on a residential block. It would be outright denied. Period. End of discussion.

      We would love to see a single structure on our block similar to your example. Live/work is fine, duplex is fine, architectural styles of many types are fine. To your point, if the home is built to code with set backs similar to other residences on the block (for courtesy sake if nothing else), design is not any of the neighbors’ business.

      This is just way too much building for the property.

  2. Why asked to jump through so many hoops?

    This developer isn't coming to the city asking for funding help, the structures are zoning compliant, and the city and schools will get more property tax monies. Moreover, this plan gets rid of an ugly outdated building. Why is this developer being made to jump through so many hoops, while other developers have far less trouble?   You go, Ms. Thomas,   you go. I wish that there were more developers like you working to improve the community.

    1. What then ?
      The article says the building is derelict. Do they want it to continue to be so ? If not have they looked for a contractor who can build what they want and do so at a cost so the builder does not go broke ? Will they ask the city to waive any affordable housing costs ? permit fees ? other fees and costs the city normally imposes ?
      People seem to always want the “best” and if they can’t get it, settle for the “worst.” Sometimes even 2nd or 3rd best is better than nothing–or “bad.”

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