Evanston’s Plan Commission tonight is scheduled to consider a proposal to require any would-be operator of a residential care home to seek special use permit approval from the City Council.

Such homes for adults now are a permitted use in many many zoning districts and a special use in some additional districts. Similar facilities for children are now permitted only as a special use.

Existing rules also require that each such use be at least 900 feet away from a similar use, unless it has less than four occupants.

The change is being requested by Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward. Fiske became concerned about the uses after the buyer of a home at 2233 Sherman Ave. in her ward two years ago planned to open a group home for emotionally troubled college students there.

That proposal was blocked because the property was less than 900 feet from two existing group homes on Gaffield Place.

City records indicate there now are 15 such uses in Evanston. Eleven are operated by Rimland Services, which provides care for adults with autism. Three are operated by Boys Hope Girls Hope, which provides housing and educational programs for underprivileged youths. One is run by Yellowbrick, which provides substance abuse and other treatment programs for young adults.

Except for the Yellowbrick property at 608 Sheridan Road, all of the buildings are listed as property tax exempt in county records.

The uses also require a license from the city’s Health Department and from the state Department of Human Services.

A city staff memo suggests that the city could be on shaky legal ground in imposing tighter requirements on group homes.

It cites a federal appeals court case, Valencia v. City of Springfield, which upheld an injunction issued by a district court judge barring the Illinois city from enforcing a 600-foot separation limit for group homes.

And it notes federal fair housing rules requiring communities to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabililties, which could put the city’s Community Development Block Grant funding at risk if not followed.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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