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Split Council rejects ADU moratorium

City will continue to allow non-owner-occupied internal and attached accessory dwelling units while a subcommittee seeks answers to near-campus homeowners' concerns about noisy students.

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

Evanston alders voted 5-4 Monday night to reject a proposed six-month moratorium on permits for non-owner-occupied internal or attached accessory dwelling units.

The moratorium’s lead proponent — Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) — claimed that absentee landlords were sweeping into the neighborhood near Northwestern University, buying up single family homes and planned to pack them with college students after doing internal ADU conversions.

But Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) said the city has issued only nine ADU permits in the past year, none of them for internal ADUs — suggesting Kelly’s fears were overblown.

Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th) said Kelly’s concerns seemed to only apply to the area immediately around Northwestern, while the moratorium would have covered the whole city. She said a subcommittee of the Planning and Development Committee named during that committee’s meeting earlier Monday night to address housing-related issues should look into the issue before there’s any action on a moratorium.

Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) said he would not support a permanent ban on non-owner-occupied internal and attached ADUs, but was willing to support the six-month moratorium to address concerns that arise near campus.

Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) called the moratorium an assault on affordable housing. It’s the wrong approach and the wrong tool, he added, suggesting the city should look to landlord licensing and its nuisance premises ordinance to address the issue instead.

Kelly claimed that the moratorium would improve housing affordability — because absentee landlords bid up housing prices. But Ald. Devon Reid (8th) said he hadn’t seen data to support that claim and believed that instead internal ADUs would help create “missing middle” housing throughout the city.

After the vote the Council became embroiled in a dispute over Kelly’s claim that three aldermen should have recused themselves because they are members of the Evanston Development Cooperative, which builds ADUs.

But two of those aldermen — Burns and Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) — had voted in favor of the moratorium, and only one, Nieuwsma, had voted against it.

Nieuwsma said the EDC doesn’t do internal ADUs so the co-op members have no financial interest in the issue and that if he felt there were personal financial implications to his vote, he would have recused himself.

That debate subsided after City Manager Erika Storlie pointed out that even if the three had recused themselves, the moratorium would still have failed — with four votes against and two in favor.

The council members who volunteered to serve on the new housing subcommittee were Burns, Kelly, Reid and Revelle.

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