Members of Evanston's Zoning Board of Appeals Tuesday night postponed action on a request for a special use permit to legalize the long-time use of two homes near downtown as law offices, saying they wanted to hear from the attorney who runs the business.
Several board members voiced concerns that the attorney, Richard Schapiro, who specializes in helping residents challenge their property tax bills, had trimmed his own tax bill for decades by failing to report the conversion of the homes to office use.
Residential property in Cook County is taxed at 10 percent of its assessed value, while commercial property, like offices, is taxed at 25 percent of its assessed value.
Schapiro's attorney, Thomas Quinn, said his client was unable to attend the meeting because of a flareup of spinal stenosis, but promised to have him appear at the board's next meeting, March 17, if he's recovered.
Quinn said his client has already agreed to make upgrades to the buildings -- including adding sprinkler systems -- that would likely cost about $200,000 -- and that he was willing, if the city insisted, to add a handicap lift to the side of the building at 1327 Chicago Ave., at a cost that could reach another $100,000.
Quinn said Schapiro would also agree to report the current and past office use to the county assessor's office.
The home on Chicago Avenue and another Schapiro owns around the corner at 528 Greenwood St. are in an R5 residential zone, although there are commercial uses across the street and down the block on Chicago Avenue.
Two neighbors who spoke at the ZBA meeting said they had no objection to letting Schapiro continue to use the buildings as offices for his more than 40 employees.
Tom Polonos, president of The Edmundton Condominium Association just south of the Chicago Avenue building, said he'd been neighbors with Schapiro for the more than 20 years since the condominum building was constructed.
If he makes the physical modifications required by the city and addresses the tax compliance issue, Polonos said, "then we're fully supportive of approving his request."
City staff said they weren't aware of the office use of the properties until someone made an anonymous complaint about two years ago.
If the ZBA recommends approval of the plans, the request for the handicap lift would need to be reviewed by the Preservation Commission before the issue reaches the City Council for a final determination.