Here’s a recap of our live coverage of this evening’s Evanston City Council Planning and Development Committee meeting – – a session that largely focused on a proposal to license or ban vacation rentals in the city.

Meeting called to order at 7:19 p.m.

A packet with information on tonight’s agenda items is available online.

Minutes approved.

Special uses for type-2 restaurant Naf Naf Grill at 1629 Orrington Ave. Approved.

Zoning ordinance amendment to allow expansion of legal non-conforming uses in one-to-four-family buildings by major variations. Approved.

Vacation rental issue

Timothy Shell, 1246 Hinman Ave., says has rented their home through AirBnB for the past year. Says have had guests from all over the world. Says they typically eat at local restaurants or shop at local stores, typically don’t have cars, often rent bikes. 

Says it’s been a positive experience for him. Says appears to be two major issues — neighborhood safety and values. Unlike a hotel, he says, “we have a vested interest in who’s sharing our home for safety and comfort.”

Says disorderly conduct and excess noise shouldn’t be allowed.

Says Evanston isn’t a gated community, people are free to walk around.

Says visitors enrich the community.

Says he’s very comfortable with the vetting process that AirBnB provides, and what he does on his own.

Thinks some rules probably are necessary, but “let’s not overdo it.”

Susan Shell, 1246 Hinman, says AirBnB offers home insurance to its customers and that they’ve had fabulous people visit — they’ve been impressed with Evanston as well.

Howard Handler, North Shore Barrington Association of Realtors, says should distinguish between properties rented regularly and ones only rented occasionally. Says the ones rented all the time have been the issue.

Says the licensing ordinance would work for frequent renters — but not for occasional ones — too burdensome for them.

Also says the exemptions leave gaps — prohibiting some uses that should be allowed.

Says a professor on sabbatical could rent out his house, but a rabbi on sabbatical couldn’t.

Olpheme Davis, 1525 Dobson, says she’s barely breaking even and meeting her mortgage. Says have had great quality of renters.

Girl scouts and leaders, surgeons, other high-quality people who have left her house in impecable state.

Says she screens tenants before letting them stay at her home.

Have people coming for graduations from Loyola and Northwestern universities.

Says she has used vacation rentals when on vacation herself.

Says if ordinance is going to permit a professor to rent out his house, it should permit a nurse to rent her house as well.

Kim Novi, says asked months ago for city to prohibit people from renting out rooms in their homes that are unlicensed. Now have ordinances faulty in many ways, but sanction — approve — the very action they sought to prohibit.

Says shouldn’t enact either proposed ordinance, but enforce city laws that prohibit the action they object to. Says the lodging establishment ordinance bars such uses in R1 zones.

Says people are serving breakfasts, and can’t do that without a bed and breakfast license.

Says home occupation ordinance prohibits having home businesses overnight.

Maureen O’Donnell, says lives next to the property on Ashland that neighbors are concerned about. Doesn’t like proposed ordinances before the aldermen. Says would never have bought her home if knew that Evanston was going to give the green light to greed.

Mark Rosati, 2509 Ashland, says should have just cited property for violating existing ordinances. Says proposed ordinances would just turn everything on its head.

David Berg, 2510 Jackson, says could have good landlords, but how can assure that will? What’s going to stop somebody from having a party next to you? he asks.

Says doesn’t think can manage the licensing ordinance — will leave it to the neighbors to call complaints in.

Says shouldn’t change ordinances just because the economy has gone south. Should enforce existing ordinances.

Howard Gartzman, 2401 Jackson, says has been using AirBnB since 2008. Says is a screening process — if we’re uncomfortable–people aren’t coming to our house.

Has rented to parents of students at Northwestern, overseas visitors, and others. Says have stayed themselves at AirBnB rentals in other cities.

Says has found the experience enriching and it’s been a good advertisement for Evanston.

Sue Gartzman says have never felt threatened in any way, people aren’t coming to cause trouble, but to enrich their lives.

Says this is happening all over the world, suggests look at what other communities are doing and not overreact to it.

In response to question from Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, Sue Gartzman says she works from the home and is there when the guests are present.

Says would never want to upset the neighbors in any way and are sorry for the situation the people on Ashland are facing.

Jeff Smith, 2724 Harrison, says he bought a single family home in an R-1 neighbohrood. Says part of the bargain he bought was the right to rent out his property. Currently Evanston has no limitation on the length of time people can rent out. 

Not everything you do that brings in money doesn’t turn it into a commercial business. Selling your personal automobile doesn’t turn you into a car dealer, he says.

Says is sympathetic to the folks on Ashland, but that people all over the city have been doing it without creating a problem. Have to have been a couple of thousand guests who have come to Evanston and not a single arrest.

Says is hearing mainly the fear of what might happen, rather than the reality of what has happened.

Says he’s now an empty nester, says could pay a house-sitter … or rent as a vacation rental and make some money from it.

Scott Gross, 2507 Ashland, says other communities don’t allow transient hotels in R1 districts — to protect the children in the neighborhood. Says laws are there to protect against what might happen — even if it hasn’t happened yet.

Jodi Lee Meserow, 1310 Rosalee, says she’s dissatisfied with the proposed ordinance.

Alderman Rainey says won’t support anything that excludes all the other R districts. Says the children in R5 districts are as precious as the children in R1 districts. Says finds it so expensive listening to the exclusive and elitist attitudes about R1 districts.

Says there’s a perception in Evanston that there are two classes of people — homeowners and tenants — and that’s just wrong.

There are some incidents that have happened that have to be stopped — but there should not be any discrimination between or among zoning districts.

Also objects to the professor exemption, “I think that’s crazy.”

Alderman Melissa wynne, 3rd Ward, says haven’t solve the problem at all. Says there are terrible inconsistencies in both ordinances.

Says she doesn’t understand why the existing ordinances are not capable of dealing with the problem on Ashland. “We’re just bolixing this up more and more,” she says.

Says it appears we have unlicensed B&Bs operating in Evanston now, and they need to get licensed.

Says need to hold this, it’s not going to get worked on tonight. Why is a professor differernt from anyone else who takes a trip.

Says Craig’s list is very different from AirBnB.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, says she agrees that should hold the ordinance. Says aldermen should have a meeting and work it out.

Holmes says aldermen so far haven’t given staff sufficient direction.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, says need to come up with something that’s an expension of the existing bed and breakfast ordinance.

Says the exceptions in the proposed ordinance are not fair exceptions.

Says problems starts with inability to enforce something.  It’s something that needs to be supervised in some way so we can keep track of what’s going on.

Wynne says if it’s not a b&B … breakfast is not being served, then it’s a rooming house.

Steve Griffin, community and economic development director, says can bring the existing ordinances up to the aldermen for review

Wynne says we have a rooming house ordnance, a bed and breakfast ordinance, a home occupation ordnance — any one of which, she says, could address the Ashland problem.

Says living next to a vacation rental is less desirable than living next to a single family home that’s not being rented out.

Rainey asks do we want to outlaw the good ones and the bad ones. But people who want to fly under the radar won’t seek a license.

Why can’t we just bring down the hammer on the bad ones — seem to have ordinances for that already. The good ones, you don’t even know they’re renting out their unit.

Asks why don’t get the fire, police and health department to inspect there.

Holmes says the theme seems to be whether owners are in the home versus when aren’t. If unattended would have the same issue.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz says if comfortable separating issue with owner there can look at B&B and rooming house ordinances. Real question is what do with facilities not occupied by the owner. Did go to federal court, if council wishes to outlaw can go forward with amendments that may meet the court standard.

Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar says have tried to come up with a regulatory scheme that would be clear and comprehensive. Says ZBA disagreed with law departments interpretation of the lodging ordinance.

Says other jurisdictions used vacation rentals as a term of art — says that pattern has been used in New York, Chicago and other jurisdictions.

Bed and Breakfast says will be a meal cooked on site. Says vacation rentals have different ways of meal service–some have it, some don’t. B&B definition is a little torubling from an enforcement perspective.

The issue is continuing to evolve. The enforcement issue is going to be there, Farrar says.

Can try giving enforcement another shot, but could be downsides with it.

Says it’s a very difficult issue, very difficult to parse out and get a comprehensive clear scheme in place.

Bobkiewicz says we need to do better and come up with a solution to go forward. 

Wilson says the problem isn’t so much that people are renting spaces in buildings. The problem is when someone is disruptive creates a disruption on the block. Why can’t we address the disruption? he asks.

Why can’t have a rule that says if you rent out a room and they’re noisy, you get a $500 fine.

Regardless of who you are — if professor on sabbatical — and person rents and has wild parties– disruption is the problem — not the fact that people are coming and renting.

We’re talking too much about who comes and goes, everyone deserves the same protections and be free from disruptions, wilson says.

Bobkiewicz says happy to come back … but concern over disruption of fabric in community as well.

That’s the public policy question, he says.

wynne says that’s precisely the concern here — fabric of community — have boundaries between commercial and residential …so doesn’t bleed into each other in ways that make it intolerable to be there in a residential zone.

Are we deciding to dissolve part of he zoning ordinance, that’s the fundamental issue here. We have people who say this is diminishing the value of my property.

Rainey says would like to have the alderman of the ward and some members of staff to have a sit-down with the owner of the property on Ashland to find out ofi ots overcrowded, if there are sufficient toilet facilities, whatever.

Says first have to find out exactly what’s gong on there. We might find out that there are serious violations of existing laws. Don’t think we know that right now.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, says people have a right to rely on the zoning ordinance to have a fair expectation of what’s occurring near where they live.

So vote is to hold the issue in hopes of having further information in time for next meeting on April 23.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation

7 Comments

  1. Jeff Smith is right for once! Ann Rainey is right as usual!

    Wow!  Nobody (except perhaps Judy Fiske) has a longer history of being wrong than Jeff Smith.  Therefore,we must rejoice when he finally says something that is wise :

    "Jeff Smith, 2724 Harrison, says he bought a single family home in an R-1 neighbohrood. Says part of the bargain he bought was the right to rent out his property. Currently Evanston has no limitation on the length of time people can rent out.

    Not everything you do that brings in money doesn't turn it into a commercial business. Selling your personal automobile doesn't turn you into a car dealer, he says.

    Says is sympathetic to the folks on Ashland, but that people all over the city have been doing it without creating a problem. Have to have been a couple of thousand guests who have come to Evanston and not a single arrest."

    What can I say?  There is more joy in heaven over one NIMBY who repents……

    Except for his part about "R1"…R1 people are not any more special than others…who better to point that out than Ann Rainey?

    "Alderman Rainey says won't support anything that excludes all the other R districts. Says the children in R5 districts are as precious as the children in R1 districts. Says finds it so expensive listening to the exclusive and elitist attitudes about R1 districts."

    Can I get an amen?  Ann Rainey is truly the wisest of the Aldermen.

  2. People have a right to rely on the zoning ordinance

    "Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, says people have a right to rely on the zoning ordinance to have a fair expectation of what's occurring near where they live."

    yes, Judy…

    if people buy a house across the street from a plot of land that is zoned U1…such as the Kendall lot was , or if they buy houses that are near Northwestern University and zoned U1, U3,etc….they should not be surprised to see students and college dormitories in their neighborhood.

    1. Facts make it harder to get

      Facts make it harder to get away with using misinformation.

      The Kendall block is zoned R1.

      The old Roycemore  site is owned by NU.  Alderman Fiske is working with the University to create dorms that work well within the context of the neighborhood.  Collaboration and Communication. 

      1. Zoning

        While it is true that the Kendall site is currently zoned R1, that is a change that was made by the City Council after Kendall vacated the property. The land had previously been zoned U1 — for university uses —  so someone who bought a house across the street while Kendall was there did buy across the street from property zoned U1.

        — Bill

      2. Misinformation indeed

        What misinformation, that property wasn't zoned R1 until the first ward NIMBYS, and Fiske was one of the leaders, made their ridiculous demands and chased out of town a perfectly reasonable development. 

        As far as I am concerned Fiske & those NIMBYS of the first ward owe the rest of us Evanston taxpayers a couple million dollars by now as we have probably lost at least that much in r.e. taxes over the years.

        Taxes that would have been collected and dispersed to the city, our schools and parks, taxes that would have helped alleviate everyone's overall tax burden.

        Instead, every taxpayer in Evanston had to step up, and must still continue to step up, and carry the extra tax burden of lost and forgone revenue that was the end result created by those NIMBYS.  

        And to think Fiske sits on the economic development committee, what a joke.

  3. Zoning enforcement is the big problem

    The city's commitment to zoning enforcement is the real crux of the problem.  They can pass as many ordinances as they want, but if they fail to enforce the laws–like they do presently—it won't make a lick of difference.

    I know of instances where property owners are housing illegal home occupations and the city rarely asks for fines in excess of a couple hundred dollars at Administrative Hearings.  There is only one person on staff who deals with zoning enforcement so if you had someone running a stealth home occupation or a B&B and you call 311, it takes a couple of weeks for the city to actually investigate.

    When they show up there may be no outward signs of violations so they drop the case.

    The city has a nuisance property ordinance which requires property owners to develop an abatement plan if they have had two zoning or code violations in a 6 month period.  I don't believe that the city EVER uses this ordinance to stop un-conforming uses.

    The problem is slack city workers, failure of leadership from the city manager to actually use the preexisting powers at the city's disposal.

  4. The reason

    The reason that the City Council is having such difficulty with this issue is clearly that this idea should not be regulated.  I totally disagree with Jeff Smith and all of the others about this being a violation somehow of "single family" zoning.  It is a single family district and it is being used by a group of 3 unrelated's AT A TIME.  The zoning is designated that way for density and residential character. The density does not change and it is still being used in a residential way.  If three people were to rent it out for the year, and had 3 cars, etc.., what real difference does that make?  This is a NON-issue.

    Neighbors, this doesn't ruin the neighborhood – only makes it more interesting by having visitors who will fall in love with Evanston, use our restaurants, shops, etc..  You need to calm down and realize that your life is not being negatively impacted.  You might even meet some very cool people visiting our city – just imagine that!

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