The Economic Development Committee voted 7-4 Wednesday night to reverse a staff recommendation and support a request for a tax break to remove old gasoline storage tanks from a property across from the Evanston police station.

1459-63 Elmwood Ave. (File photo)

The Economic Development Committee voted 7-4 Wednesday night to reverse a staff recommendation and support a request for a tax break to remove old gasoline storage tanks from a property across from the Evanston police station.

The owner of the former gas station, Randall Cohn of Ventura Realty, said he’d learned only recently from a ground-penetrating radar study that there appear to be three underground storage tanks on the property.

Cohn bought the property at 1459-63 Elmwood Ave. a couple of years ago from a bank that had foreclosed on it.

He says documentation he’s uncovered showed that the state environmental protection agency had approved cleanup efforts showing that no contamination was present from a former dry cleaners operating on the site.

And he says he also found evidence that years ago a tank removal company had been paid to remove some gasoline storage tanks from the property, so he assumed that problem had been addressed as well.

But the recent radar study showed that, while the ground had been disturbed at the north end of the site and that tanks might have been removed there, there were still outlines of three storage tanks at the south end of the property.

Cohn said the potential for contamination from the tanks has scared off potential tenants at the property, including the McGaw YMCA, which he said considered opening a child care facility there, and potential buyers, including a restauranteur.

The property has been vacant for some time now. But city staff said Cohn is asking rents about 25 percent higher than that for comparable property in the area and that he has no specific plans for a new post-cleanup use that would let the city recoup the lost property tax revenue.

The Cook County program Cohn seeks to apply for would reduce the tax rate on the property by 60 percent for 10 years and then phase out the reduction over the following two years.

Cohn says he’s received estimates that the cleanup project could cost $150,000 — or possibly much more, depending on the extent the tanks may have leaked.

Committee members who opposed the request, including Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, focused on whether Cohn should have done further investigation before he purchased the property.

Those who supported it, including Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, suggested the city is losing tax revenue every day the property remains vacant. “We need to get a move on and get the property cleaned up,” Rainey said, suggesting that contamination from the tanks could be spreading across the street to the police station.

The request still requires action by the full City Council.

Seven of the nine aldermen are on the EDC. Alderman Burrus, Fiske and Grover voted against the request.

But with supportive votes from Aldermen Holmes, Rainey, Tendam and Wynne — plus word from staff that Alderman Don Wilson, whose 4th Ward includes the property, also favors the tax break, it appears that the measure is likely to win approval from the council.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Picking winners and losers with our money?

    It appears Randall Cohn did not do proper due diligence when he purchased the property.

    So now Evanston aldermen want to give him a tax break because of his mistake?

    Two years ago the Economic Development Committee awarded Cohn a $17,500 grant for roof renovations and brickwork at the set of storefronts at 1459-1463 Elmwood Ave. he owns.

    At the time, Cohn had the storefront on the real estate market for twice as much as he had paid for it the same year he bought it as a foreclosure.

    This week Evanston aldermen took steps to set up a TIF and award up to $20 million to a private investor who had just bought the Evanston Plaza shopping center in a foreclosure.

    Last month, Evanston aldermen agreed to spend up to $100,000 to reconfigure the first floor of a building the city owns into a wine bar set to open on Howard Street.

    What is going on here?

    How many property owners and businesses has the EDC and Evanston aldermen rejected?

    I support local businesses and bold ideas but creating TIFs to benefit ONE private investor, award thousands of dollars and a tax break for another investor who did not do proper due diligence and was selling his property when he got some of the money or financially assist inexperienced and unproven business owners to open a wine bar on Howard Street do not seem like sound decisions to me.

    How about cutting city staff, streamlining departments and cut taxes rather than raise them 11 percent in the past two years? That way ALL property businesses can benefit, not just a select connected few.


    1. I have Skokie Government envy

      The Evanston city employees are terrible at their jobs and I don't understand why our Council continues to give credence to many of the ideas that they bring to them. 

      I envy Skokie residents their government.  Can't we merge city departments with Skokie to help cut costs and let the Skokie employees who seem to know what they are doing make some wiser decisions on our behalf? 

      Our city employees are like kids playing at daycare, and they are making some serious mistakes we will all pay for in the long run.

    2. picking winners?


      The neighborhood Trib indicates, this week, that while Evanston is giving a developer 20 million to help out at Dempster-Dodge, Skokie announces that a new 150,000 sq ft Walmart is to be built at Touhy and St Louis along with a branch bank, restaurants and a profesisonal medical building.  No mention of any money frthcoming from Skokie.

      Aside from the lack of any incentive by Skokie, what will the effect of that Walmart be on Evanston's Target, Sam's Club, etc ,let alone any potential renter at Dempster-Dodge and Howard St shopping centers. I would suspect that Evanstonians will flock there and not remain "loyal" to their home town shops.

      By the way, why is it that Walmart would not just take over the Dempster Plaza (or why did they not buy it last Fall) and not have to spend money building a new facility? Must we "bribe" every potential business?

  2. Why this gift ?

    Property owners (a condo in my area who discovered a tank under their parking lot, 1300 Central, and my understanding the bank branch at Emerson/Elgin, etc.) did not get a gift from the city to clean up their sites.

    It sounds as if the former owner should be responsible—not Evanston taxpayers !

    Will the Council ever run out of ways to give gifts—and stick taxpayers with the bills ?

  3. deja vu all over again

    Is there no city memory?

    When the theater complex was built, the South side of Church St, was redeveloped. There had been a Hertz facility there. Rental cars = gas supply? Guess who was stuck with the clean up? The city, which means we all paid for it, not the developer or previous owner.

    Is there a message here?


  4. Isn’t this the same place…

    …that got a city grant for roofing/siding work? Then the business went out of business? Gee, I didn't do enough diligence when I bought my house. Will the city pick up 60 percent of my property taxes, too?

    1. Proper time for this story

      I assume Sunday we will see the stories about the city paying support for the bar on Howard and tank on Elmwood and probably others about the Council dole.  Assuredly the stories in the press so far must have been released early, since they are clearly stories that could only reported Sunday, April 1.
      Clearly residents cannot believe the Council would be so fiscally irresponsible with tax payer money, to fund these.

  5. When will the city go into recievership?

    Every meeting these public officials here are giving away our tax dollars, it clear they are going to raise taxes next time in the 10% range and lie about it – how soon before the city can not pay the bills?

    I am waiting for Wally and team to screw up the water project to sell water to other communities and they make a huge investment that will put us over the edge.

  6. Skokie-Evanston

    Many companies learned they need to survive.

    Maybe Skokie could annex Evanston and straighten out the problems Evanston has.  It would be great to have competent city government for once instead of one that discourage business all the while giving money to anyone who crawls out from under a rock.

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