When zoning and housing goals collide

The latest design for 2626 Reese Ave., showing the front facade facing Hartzell Street.

Evanston aldermen, who've been trying to encourage development of smaller, more affordable housing, delayed a vote on one such house this week in the face of stiff opposition from neighbors.

The vacant lot at 2626 Reese Ave. is 25 feet wide by 133 feet deep. It was platted as a buildable lot many decades ago, but the R-1 zoning later applied to the neighborhood requires a minimum lot size of 7,200 square feet.

That's more than twice the size of this lot, on which developer William James wants to build a 1,936 square foot home. It's also far larger than the lots that the houses of many of the complaining neighbors sit on.


The lot at 2626 Reese, highlighted in blue on the map above.

The city's zoning code has a process for granting variances to permit development of properties that don't comply with zoning code provisions. City staff recommended approval of variances for this house, but the Zoning Board of Appeals recommended against approving the changes.

The final decision is up to the City Council.


Joseph Paradi.

Joseph Paradi, of 2907 Harzell St., led off the objections from neighbors Monday night, describing the planned house as "inappropriate" and said approval of the plan would put the interest of "a speculator" above that of the neighbors.


William James.

But James said a prior owner of the property, who planned to live in a house to be built there, was driven off by the neighbors' opposition and that he had scaled down the size of his plans -- reducing it from three to two bedrooms and lowering the roof height.


A diagram showing the footprint of the proposed house on the lot.

He suggested that, given his experience through two ZBA reviews, he didn't think there was any proposal that could win that board's approval and that the neighbors clearly want to see the lot remain vacant.

Alderman Tom Suffredin, whose 6th Ward includes the site, said he thought the planned design was too big for the lot.

But Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said the the Council has been trying to encorage more small house development.

And Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said there are many 25-foot-wide lots in northwest Evanston, and they are inconsistent with R1 zoning.

"To me, this would be the perfect lot for a small house," Fiske said. She added that James "has done a beautiful job on other projects in town."

But she said she wasn't ready to approve the Reese project yet, and suggested a home with an even smaller footprint might be the answer.

The aldermen voted to hold the issue for further discussion at their next Planning and Development Committee meeting.

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