A lifelong Evanstonian, James Wolinski will conclude his 31-year career with the City, including 19 years spent as community development director, at the end of May.
“To be the community development director in the City I was born in is fantastic,” Mr. Wolinski told the RoundTable.
In charge of building development, planning, property standards and zoning, Mr. Wolinski said he was particularly proud of his work on the revitalization of the downtown area and of the Clyde-Callan neighborhood in south Evanston, which suffered from neglect 20 years ago.
More recently, Mr. Wolinski said his department oversaw an increase of more than 200 affordable housing units in Evanston in the last 10 years. “I’ll match that record with anyone in the state,” he said, but added that Evanston still needs to do more.
He said more than 1,000 condominium units were built in the downtown area in the last 10 years, and his department has collected $1.5 billion in construction permits since 2001.
In terms of safety, he said his department has the strictest code enforcement standards in Cook County.
Mr. Wolinski listed a number of changes and challenges his successor will face, including the implementation of a new permit-tracking software program that will streamline the permit process, as well as the tower proposal for 708 Church St. and the finalization of the downtown plan.
“The tower will be a lynch-pin in terms of how development moves forward in Evanston,” Mr. Wolinski told the RoundTable.
With more than 200 recent foreclosures — the most he has seen in his tenure with the City — Mr. Wolinski said the department of property standards will face significant challenges in maintaining Evanston’s housing stock and preventing neighborhood blight.
The City is going through a slowdown in development, he said, and it will be “interesting to see how it affects Evanston in the near future.”
As the City conducts a nationwide search for his successor and looks to replace many others leaving the Civic Center, Mr. Wolinski said the loss of so many long-term City employees will also pose a challenge in the near future. “A lack of institutional history here will be a problem,” he said. But he added he is leaving behind a strong, aggressive department that needs no fixing, just a “good leader.”