How zoning can make affordability difficult

A rendering of the rejected 3233-3249 Central development.

Evanston's Zoning Board of Appeals this week rejected zoning variations required to build 14 accessible two-bedroom apartments on Central Street.

During discussion of the proposal, board members repeatedly noted that under the zoning code the developer could build as many as 10 much larger units on the site at 3233-3249 Central St. under the current R4 zoning as of right, without needing approval for any variations.

But the board voted 4-1 against the variations needed, with most members saying the request didn't meet the hardship standard required to grant variations.

That outcome illustrates one of the ways in which zoning rules pose obstacles to the construction of modest-sized, relatively affordable new housing in the city.

Developer Dan Schermerhorn told the board he saw a need for smaller-scale housing that would be accessible to older residents and others who may have mobility issues.

His architect designed a project that would maximize the number of ground-floor accessible units. But the design required variations for the number of dwelling units, the building lot coverage and the amount of impervious surface coverage.

Each of the units would have been about 1,200 square feet in size, including two bathrooms, and would have rented for about $2,500 a month.

Back in 2005, just a couple blocks to the east, a much different development was constructed at 3106-3114 Central, also in the R4 zone, which does not appear to have required any zoning variations.


3106-3114 Central St. (Google Maps)

These row-house style condominiums, according to the real estate website Zillow have, on average, just under 3,000 square feet of space on three levels, in addition to finished basements, three or four baths and three or four bedrooms. They and are estimated to have a rental value, if they were rented out, averaging $4,533 per month.

If Zillow's estimates are accurate, then 10 such units built on the site in the 3200 block might bring in $45,330 in monthly rent, compared to the $35,000 Schermerhorn had hoped to get for the 14-unit project the ZBA  rejected Tuesday night.

Neighbors said the development Schermerhorn proposed was too dense and would change the character of the immediate neighborhood, which has many modest-size homes build in the '50s and '60s.

But a development targeted to those with much higher incomes, which could be built of right, could be taller and denser in terms of square footage, than the project the board rejected.

Related story

ZBA to review development plan on Central (2/19/18)

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Comments

Everyone always cries wolf

Everyone always cries wolf about affordable housing and how’s we need it, but just not in their neighborhoods. 

Schermerhorn proposal

Do I understand that the neighbors in modest-size houses would reject this proposal but would favor more expensive (zoning approved) development? The Schermerhorn development idea seems to fit the neighborhood perfectly! The buildings would be more accessible, less dense, and not as tall. . . . I don't see why zoning can't accommodate the Schermerhorn plan!

The neighbors...

The neighbors weren't asked whether they would prefer what could be built by right.

They were just there to object to what was actually being proposed.

On one level, that's a limitation of the process -- nobody advises the neighbors about the scale of what could be built by right. They are just told what variances the actual proposal before the ZBA would require.

But to actually create a visual representation of what could be built by right would be a somewhat laborious and expensive process and there would be many different possible variations. So it may be a difficult problem to fix.

The bigger issue is the extent to which the zoning code has (perhaps unintended) incentives to build large, expensive properties, rather than more modest, relatively more affordable ones.

-- Bill

You are too generous to

You are too generous to suggest that zoning code incentives to build large, expensive properties could be unintentional. All over the country zoning is used to create exclusively upper-class communities, and Evanston is no exception.

We ran into the exact same

We ran into the exact same issuea when we were trying to build a multi unit. As a young couple who dont want a mansion we had the idea of building 2 townhomes in the same space a regular evnaton house would take. ( 2x 2000sq ft). Everything was the same as one house but most land in evanston is zones for a single family. No way to do that regardless of the fact it is the same foot print and that some of these lots are litterally a xouple blocks from the public transport corridor on Chicago. This is completely behind the times. Younger families dont all want large victorian sized homes. And pushing for higher density by public transportation does not only means approving luxury rental buildings!