A Grammy Award-winning music producer says “it’s looking good” that his training program for Evanston high school students will survive.
The city of Evanston’s Land Use Commission held off Wednesday night deciding the fate of the Butcher Boy School of Music Production, in the hope of finding a compromise which will meet both zoning concerns and the needs of the school.
Fourteen people, including half a dozen current and former students, urged commissioners in a virtual meeting to approve zoning variances requested by school owner Jim Tullio.
Those variances would let Tullio split his parcel of land, sell a vacant portion to help pay the mortgage, and thus keep the non-profit school in business on the other side of the property.
“Right now,” Tullio told the panel, “the building is in jeopardy” due to his financial troubles.
Tullio lives upstairs in the century-old structure. The music studio is downstairs.
COVID-19 decimated independent production work, so Tullio set up Butcher Boy two years ago, to teach high schoolers music production and sound engineering.
One of Tullio’s first students, ETHS graduate Ryan Tharayil, said the Butcher Boy program “altered his path in life,” to the point that he is now studying music in Boston.
An ETHS freshman, Beatrice Andrews, said the program is “one of the most amazing experiences of my life.” She’s recorded several songs at the studio.
But the issue before the Land Use Commission was not the quality nor the importance of the school.
Rather, it was whether to give Tullio an exception (variance) to the city’s land usage rules.
His building is in an R-3 residential zone, where the minimum lot size is supposed to be 5,000 square feet.
Tullio’s property is 9,226 square feet. Do the math. There’s no way to divide the site and come up with two 5,000 square foot parcels.
Tullio had proposed 5,000 square feet where the building now sits, and 4,226 feet for the vacant part which he wants to sell. The variance would allow creation of the smaller lot.
Commissioner Jeanne Lindwall opposed the variance.
“I have a real problem with intentionally creating a substandard [by size] lot,” she stated.
However, other commissioners wanted to work with Tullio, to see if there is a way to tweak each parcel, and come up with a size for both which could be approved.
Commissioner Max Puchtel said he was “very much interested in trying to get to yes.”
While this may all sound like figuring out how many angels can dance on the head of a zoning map, the principle of not having too many variances is important to some city officials. The more you grant, the theory goes, the more you are asked for others.
In fact, the city’s Design and Project Review Committee recently recommended 11-0 against the variances for Tullio.
But the Land Use Commission has final say, and putting its decision off until late next month will buy some time to potentially find an agreement.
Following the meeting, Tullio told Evanston Now “I’m hopeful.”