Evanston’s Zoning Board of Appeals Tuesday night rejected a neighbor’s challenge to the city zoning administrator’s approval of Northwestern University’s operation of a dining hall a building the school acquired from Seabury-Western Seminary last year.

Evanston’s Zoning Board of Appeals Tuesday night rejected a neighbor’s challenge to the city zoning administrator’s approval of Northwestern University’s operation of a dining hall a building the school acquired from Seabury-Western Seminary last year.

Art Newman, the attorney for the challenger, said after the board’s vote that he’d have to consult with his client before deciding whether to seek to have the ZBA decision overturned in court.

The four ZBA members present voted unanimously to uphold Zoning Administrator Bill Dunkley’s decision, concluding that the dining hall, renamed the “Great Room” by the university, was a permissible continuation of an existing non-conforming use in the transitional zoning district — not an expansion of the use as neighbors had claimed.

ZBA member Matthew Rodgers said that when Seabury-Western owned the dining hall at 600 Haven St. “it was available for open dining to the public.” Northwestern has said it now limits access to university students, faculty, staff, alumni and their guests.

And Rodgers said claims by neighbors that thousands of people might use the facility seemed far-fetched. He said he’d seen only eight or 12 people there at times when he’d visited the building.

Member Lori Sutton said she found no basis in the zoning ordinance for the board to be able to impose time restrictions on operation of the dining hall once the zoning administrator had approved it. Neighbors had complained about the hall being open until 2 a.m.

And member Mary Beth Berns said the neighbors’ objections seemed to be based on the age of the people using the building. “If the people who were still using the food service area were still part of Seabury — and were a slightly older demographic — they would have been fine with it,” Berns said.

“They just wanted to have the zoning changed so people who are 18 to 23 years old could not be the main demographic of the dorm and the food service establishment,” she added. “I find it troubling that they’re trying to zone against a certain demographic of people, which we all know is not right and shouldn’t be right.”

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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5 Comments

  1. Victory for Enquiring Minds
    “I find it troubling that they’re trying to zone against a certain demographic of people, which we all know is not right and shouldn’t be right.”

    Yes, that sums it all up.

    1. Well Done!
      A well-reasoned decision by our Zoning Board. Good job. It’s absurd that people would move into a University city and then be upset that there are students living and dining nearby. Evanston exists because of Northwestern, not the other way around. Without the University we might have become just another Skokie, Morton Grove or Niles, not a terrible thing, but just not very interesting, cultured or urbane.

      1. +1. It’s sad that energy and
        +1. It’s sad that energy and resources are wasted in useless proceedings like this one. I have not had a chance to visit the ‘great room’ but I’m glad the buildings are being preserved by NU instead of being abandoned or torn down.

        1. Save Evanston! Preserve the Great Room!
          I have not had a chance to visit the ‘great room’ but I’m glad the buildings are being preserved by NU instead of being abandoned or torn down.

          Evanston Resident makes a great point. Any time someone talks of replacing an obsolete old building ( 708 Church, or the “Historic” Hahn Building, Central Street Theaters, Chuckie Dawes’ House, etc.)..we have activists come out who want to preserve the allegedly charming and historic old building.

          Here Northwestern took an old building, and has found a way to modify it and make it useful for current students. Why aren’t all of our local ‘preservationists’ coming out in support of Northwestern? Why doesn’t the “General Dawes Returns” group come out and support NU for preserving and remodeling the historic old building?

  2. Halt on Council and Zoning Board tear downs
    Any time the city proposes [or wants to force] tear-downs so they can ‘build’ or allow a ‘build’, there should be an automatic two year cooling off period.
    Remember Dave’s Italian Kitchen on Davis before forced out ? Several years before anything built and payments to Dave’s to make up for their loss. [Maybe Dave’s when he was at Hinman and Davis]
    Custer and Reba—grocery, laundry, upholstry stores forced out and nothing done for years.
    Chicago and Kedzie stores [apartments?]
    Central and Eastwood—number of businesses forced out for ‘builder’
    Kendall College property—allowed upper class owners to keep housing ‘below their status’ out until developer walked away
    I’m sure many residents can list ill-fated city projects.

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