Evanston aldermen Monday approved a special use permit to allow National Louis University to operate a dormitory for disabled students at 1620 Central St.

The aldermen rejected efforts by Aldermen Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, and Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, to condition the approval on the school’s agreement to make a payment in lieu of taxes to the city.

School officials had opposed the payment request.

Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, said, “This is a city with thousands of students. To say we’re going to require payment in lieu only from 60 handicapped students would be changing the incredibly generous nature of this community. It would send a very wrong message about what Evanston is like as a community.”

Alderman Jean-Baptiste said, “I don’t think we should frame the issue as if we’re trying to get these students to pay the taxes. It’s about the institution that is able and capable of making these payments. It’s a business. It’s not for profit, but it has a bottom line that makes them capable of doing this.”

As a vacant former office building, the property has recently generated $95,687 in property taxes. After discussions with school officials, Interim City Manager Rolanda Russell had recommended that the council impose a fee of 10 percent of that amount — half of the city portion of the property tax.

Alderman Steve Bernstein said, “I view these people as part of the fabric of Evanston. This is not a new organization trying to come in.” If it had been a new group, Bernstein said, he might have voted to require the tax contribution.

The school had operated the PACE, or Professional Assistant Center for Education, program for many years on its former campus in Evanston. The program trains young adults with multiple learning disabilities for careers and independent life in the community.

Several aldermen suggested they believe the council should develop an general policy on requiring in lieu of tax payments from non-profit groups, but it was not clear from the debate whether there is enough support for such a policy to win adoption.

In a separate Central Street issue, the Baha’i spiritual assembly has withdrawn its request for expansion of a parking lot on its office property at 1233 Central. The Zoning Board of Appeals had recommended that the council deny the request.

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Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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