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Plans to bring a restaurant to the 1800 block of Simpson Street in Evanston suffered another setback Wednesday when a city staff committee concluded that the latest design for the building didn’t look urban enough for Evanston.

Community Development Director Johanna Leonard said the mostly wood design “doesn’t look like other buildings in Evanston that are commercial.”

She suggested an all or mostly brick design instead.

Scott Mangum, the city’s zoning administrator, suggested the design had “a Cape Cod-type look — not authentically Evanston.”

Arkady Kats, the project’s developer, said the design did include brick at the base of the building, below the windows, and complained that an all brick design would “just look like a brick box.”


Arkady Kats.

But he agreed to return to the committee, most likely in two weeks, with revised designs.


1829 Simpson after the February windstorm.

The site previously had a brick storefront building, which remained vacant for years after neighbors persuaded the city to rezone the site at the edge of Twiggs Park from business to residential use.

Kats last year won approval from the city to change the zoning back to permit a restaurant use and had started renovating the building before it collapsed in a windstorm on Feb. 25.

A small group of neighbors who opposed that zoning change have continued to vocally oppose the restaurant plans.


Albert Gibbs.

At Wednesday’s meeting, after complaining that he couldn’t understand Kats’ Eastern European accent, Albert Gibbs, who said he’s lived at 1816 Dodge Ave. all his life, told the committee, “We don’t need what he brings. This is coming from somewhere else with no concern about what people in the immediate area want.”

“What would he really care about what anybody who looks like me wants,” Gibbs shouted.

At one point the discussion got so heated that Leonard had to threaten to adjourn the meeting and reminded the neighbors that the issues they were attempting to raise were outside the purview of the Design and Project Review Committee.

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Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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18 Comments

    1. Mr. Gibbs’s comment is highly
      Mr. Gibbs’s comment is highly offensive. Why does Mr. Katz continue to beg the City of Evanston when the Village of Wilmette or Skokie would WELCOME HIM!

  1. This site has been a decrepit
    This site has been a decrepit brick warehouse-y box for decades. Now we’re going to reject a design for a restaurant where people might get jobs as waiters and busboys because we think it looks nice, but in a way that is “Cape Cod-ish”?

    What’s he gotta do, replace the shingles with clapboard? I think it’s worth noting that the classical Cape Cod house:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cape_Cod_(house)

    … isn’t even shingles. It’s clapboard. And there are dozens of clapboard houses within a few blocks, many of them more like a Cape Cod house than the proposed design.

    There are also shingle-sided houses within six blocks. This decision is idiotic and quite frankly, ugly, xenophobic and hateful. You’ve literally got the lead opponent attacking someone for his accent and saying this “isn’t like us.” The hypocrisy is stunning.

    1. Shingles
      Shingles are not good for your skin but excellent for the facade of a restaurant.

  2. Ahem, Evanston IS a suburb
    So how did Smylie Brothers pass the “suburban look” test? It has a mostly wood exterior and looks like something you might find in the suburbs.

    What is the difference between an urban and suburban look in a commercial building? Looks like this is more micro managing from city bureaucrats.

    Someone please inform these bureaucrats that Evanston IS a suburb!!!

    It also seems a handful of residents have a beef with the developer because he has a foreign accent and doesn’t look like them. You know what that’s about. And I thought Evanston prides itself on diversity.

  3. Welcoming community?
    I’m hopeful that the majority of individuals residing in the immediate area would welcome somebody looking to start a business that provides services and employment to those residents — particularly one who has immigrated to this country (although I admittedly don’t know Kats’ background). But I hope Kats doesn’t let one vocal naysayser’s offensive comments (and, yes, they are offensive) impact his decision to try to better the community.

    Isn’t this type of thing what we all want? People coming into ALL neighborhoods of Evanston and adding economic activity and improving livelihoods as well as aesthetics of buildings/landscapes? People complain that “developers don’t want to build around here” and then when we have a small business owner looking to do just that, he receives pushback for non-sensical reasons. I wouldn’t blame Kats if he gives up as it’s got to be disheartening for him to hear things like he has, but I hope he doesn’t give up and would love to see this building actually house a business where people can go. I also don’t think the clapboard design is all that bad and depending on the coloration, could fit in quite well with the surroundings. All brick could be okay too if the brick tones are lighter and not monochromatic. I don’t think it’s too “suburban” though — we have plenty of suburban-looking houses and buildings around. Evanston has a pretty diverse housing and business stock.

    I hope to see this become a success as another thriving business in the fifth ward would be great, but am dishearted by the animosity towards Kats’ simply because of his nationality/race. Good luck to him and hopefully the design and project review committee doesn’t let the comments of a single individual (on unrelated topics) impact their thought process and decision-making.

    1. No wonder we have problems with businesses
      You would think the city would welcome diverse businesses and architecture. But no those approving business have their idea of what look/type Evanston should have and don’t want any deviation even if it costs a business coming—or jobs being created !
      Message to business: Don’t think of Evanston unless you are a masochist.

    2. Welcoming Community- hahahahahahaha
      Evanston SCREAMS how it’s sooooo diverse, welcoming to all and that “hate has NO home here” (the yard signs are ridiculous)!! The hypocrisy is REAL. Can you imagine the outrage if Mr. Kats or lord forbid a “white” male had said those offensive comments to Mr. Gibbs. OMG!! The meeting hall would’ve exploded. Where are the leaders of the black community condemning those racist comments?? SILENCE. CRICKETS. I am SO not surprised. Mr. Kats- your restaurant design looked cool to me and it’s shameful that you had to endure the HATRED from Mr. Gibbs. If I were you I’d take my design plans elsewhere. Evanston does NOT deserve you. Good luck to your sir.

  4. You may want to

    Mr. Kats- You may want to reconsider not just your design plan but the entire project. The nasty opposition seems to be aimed at you personally in a most racist, “exclusionary”, way and you will not likely win the haters over. Build elsewhere in Evanston and just leave the slab as a memento to the 5th ward Welcome Wagon. Mr. Gibbs, you are some kind of special!

  5. Offended by Mr. Gibbs’ comments

    I appreciate the 1st Amendment, but as a citizen of Evanston, I am offended by Mr. Gibbs comment.

    To say that he couldn’t understand Mr. Kats’ accent is a slur against Mr. Kats’ eastern european heritage.

    I thought we celebrated diversity in Evanston, I thought our community stands for inclusiveness and compassion.

    To say that “what would he really care about what anybody who looks like me wants” is a baseless claim and irresponsible.

    I would expect to see leaders in the black community to publicly condemn Mr. Gibbs’ comments and to see organizations like OPAL stand up for and to support Mr. Kats.

    These comments and all slanderous racial, ethnic, religious etc. type comments shouldn’t be accepted in Evanston nor anyplace.

    TP

    1. Wishful thinking
      Among the neighbors complaining about Mr. Katz’ plans were former 5th ward alderman Delores Holmes and former city clerk Rodney Greene. Given they had been elected officials in the 5th ward and in Evanston, it is fair to say that leaders from the 5th ward have spoken, and i doubt those individuals will publicly disagree with Mr. Gibbs, let alone condemn him. I would be very surprised if OPAL tool a stand against him as well.

    2. This situation unfortunately
      This situation unfortunately shines a light on an ugly side to Evanston — racism and inequity — though in a different way.

      What this exchange has highlighted is that Evanston is inclusive — as long as you agree with a certain perspective; and, Evanston is equitable, as long as it enables a certain race. It is this form of inequity which enables the election (and re-election?) of a person like Trump.

      The silence, as to the comments made during this public hearing, from the social justice champions is deafening.

  6. Walk away
    This business owner has dealt with bigotry each step of the way. These closed-minded residents would rather have a pile of blown over bricks than a new restaurant next to the park. All because of where he is from, his accent, and the food he’ll serve.

    Maybe the residents should sit down and talk with him, hear his story, what his vision is for his business, and sample the food. Otherwise, he should find a location in Evanston that doesn’t expect business owners to look alike and serve red beans and rice.

    1. bigotry and fear
      Fear generally lurks behind bigotry. Does fear play a part here? Are there other reasons – beyond the ‘foreign’ nature of the builder – that 5th ward

      residents are so opposed to the building of this restaurant? What are Mr. Gibb and others who agree with him really concerned about? Could an honest

      conversation about this proposed restaurant lead to some understanding?

  7. Role Reversal
    Perhaps it is time for City Staff, Zoning Members, and Alderpeople to have a “Role Reversal” day and work for one full eight hour day at the Evanston food establishment of their choice. The level of empathy for the physical and mental energy involved in running or working for food establishments is, I submit, deficient. Moreover, the turnover rate of such businesses, where many independent restaurants seem to have a life cycle well short of a decade, presents additional stress to them. To prevent any accusations of bias, I point out that I have not worked in the food industry since I graduated college, but did begin as a busboy in my mid-teens. Evanston homeowners might benefit as well from our city appreciating more fully that tax revenue, whether from restaurant business taxes or property taxes, is not indefinitely irreplaceable.

  8. Reform now
    The process on display here is totally dysfunctional. What’s the alternative to Kats’ proposal? Whatever the opponents may say, I suspect the answer we will find out in several years is, “Nothing”, just like it has been for the past decade plus. The alternative has produced nothing except smoother rubble stones.

    Opponents of business investment projects should be required to put forth positive alternative proposals, or positive implementable suggestions for an existing proposal. If none is offered, then projects should be approved subject to objective, public guidelines.

    Kats owns the property. Does that entitle him to anything other than tax obligations and ugly, frankly hateful public comments?

  9. Looks Nice to Me
    I live a few blocks away from this location and would welcome Mr. Kats’ restaurant. I was bummed to see the original building damaged beyond repair earlier this year.

    I also am very uncomfortable with the treatment he seems to be receiving. What is the proper role of the city in dealing with offensive and discriminatory language used to attack others at public meetings? I don’t know the exact answer, but I know Evanston City employees and citizens need to do much better than this.

    1. Unfair treatment of a businessman

      These are the same people who complained before that they would accept the restaurant if it was “chicken and red beans”, but had NO complaints when a black man charged of selling drugs near the school asked the city for money to lease a building for a restaurant 2 blocks from there.

      These people are being mobilized against Mr Kats for some reason and I can’t figure out why other than fear of gentrification. Mr Kats is giving a building that has been empty for decades a better purpose.

      This mobilization against him is ridiculous, there are many business in Evanston that keep asking for city money, this guy just wants to set up his shop and we are making it difficult for him for no good reason.

      I for one will be a patron as often as I can to support more people than him, and being a voter in this ward, if he is chased away, I will make sure to vote (and convince others) to replace everyone who is stopping him.

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