An illustration from the AARP showing some possible attached accessory dwelling unit configurations.

Evanston’s Plan Commission voted 3-2 Wednesday night to recommend City Council approval of a six-month moratorium on creation of attached and internal accessory dwelling units on non-owner occupied properties.

The vote came despite a memo from city staff that concluded an owner-occupancy rule would be a “poison pill” that would discourage the creation of affordable housing.

Commissioner George Halik said, “It’s a complicated issue, and the longer we talk about it the more complicated it is.” Commissioner Kristine Westerberg said the “complicated and interrelated” issues around ADUs made a moratorium appropriate.

Halik suggested that people who buy homes in single family neighborhoods have a reasonable expectation that other homes in the area will only be occupied by a single family. “I have a house and I’m very concerned about who lives next to me. I’d not be happy with six people living in the house next to me.”

Halik suggested that perhaps ADUs should only be permitted in single family districts.

But Commissioner Matt Rodgers said the commission had recommended approval of the ADU ordinance last August on a 7-0 vote — without any owner-occupancy restrictions. He said there’s been no surge in construction activity — only one or possibly two properties proposed for internal or attached ADUs.

Commissioner John Hewko said eliminating the ability to rent both dwelling units on a property with an ADU would defeat much of the affordable housing goals that drove adoption of the ordinance in the first place, by making financing more difficult and limiting options for owners whose housing needs might change.

He said he was sympathetic to concerns of residents that the current rule could encourage conversion of more properties to student housing — but he said the noise and nuisance issues associated with student housing could be better addressed by other means.

Commission Chair Jeanne Lindwall ended up casting the deciding vote. She said that while she agreed that owner occupancy should not be required to build an ADU — uncertainty about current occupancy limits, nuisance premises rules and a rental licensing ordinance make a six-month moratorium appropriate.

During public comment on the proposal several homeowners near the Northwestern University campus spoke in favor, while several affordable housing advocates opposed it.

Related stories

Staff urges rejection of ADU ‘poison pill’ (7/28/21)

Kelly pushes affordable housing rollback (6/26/21)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.