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ZBA backs compromise to authorize office use

Tax attorney told to clear up back taxes issue to keep office space.

528 Greenwood Ave. (Google Maps)

Property tax appeals attorney Richard Shapiro will be allowed to keep his offices in two residentially zoned buildings near downtown under a plan recommended for approval by the Zoning Board of Appeals this week.

But board members insisted he’ll have to pay decades worth of back taxes to do it.

Shapiro says he launched his practice in 1991, working out of a home at 1327 Chicago Ave. As his practice gradually grew, he added employees to work in that property and another he acquired around the corner at 528 Greenwood St.

Richard Shapiro at a Design and Project Review Committee meeting in November 2019.

But he never bothered to seek special use approval from the city for the conversion of the buildings to office use and didn’t inform the county assessor’s office of the change of use — which would have boosted his tax rate from 10% to 25% of assessed value.

After the city received an anonymous complaint about the situation a couple of years ago, the city inspected the properties and Shapiro started preparing plans to bring them into compliance on various building code issues and to seek the special use.

In November 2019 the city’s Design and Project Review Committee recommended approval of a special use for the offices, but then resolving the issue was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Muffy McAuley.

ZBA Member Muffy McAuley said at Tuesday’s meeting that city schools have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years as a result of the underassessment of the properties. “To me, that’s egregious behavior from a tax attorney,” she said.

She also said that while Shapiro says he notified the assessor’s office about the issue early last year, the properties are still classified as residential.

McAuley, who has been involved in a number of property redevelopment projects in Evanston over the years, said, “In my experience the instant you complete a renovation, the assessor’s office is very fast to increase assessments.”

Shapiro, who before the pandemic had as many as 44 people working from his offices, now has plans to move some of the employees to office space at 990 Grove St. that is handicap accessible. That change will eliminate the need to make modifications to the two homes to make them handicap accessible.

Shapiro’s attorney, Thomas Quinn, said his client is now over 70 years old and has mobility issues that make it important for him to be able to work near his home in a condo building next to the 1327 Chicago Ave. building.

The agreement recommended by the board also calls for Shapiro to make a variety of internal life-safety improvements to the two properties.

The proposal is still subject to final approval by the City Council.

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