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National-Louis University’s request for a special use for 1620 Central St. to house its PACE (Professional Assistant Care for Education) program won Council approval. The vote was 6-2, with Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, and Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, casting the “no” votes.
The decision will allow National-Louis to convert the vacant office building into a dormitory with some classroom space for about 60 college students with multiple learning disabilities.
Although neighbors had expressed mixed views about the project, property taxes, not neighborhood sentiment, dominated the Council’s discussion.
Alds. Rainey and Jean-Baptiste said that, while they understood that National-Louis was exempt from paying property taxes under state law, they felt it should make a payment in lieu of taxes to the City.
The 1620 Central building, vacant as of now, generates $90,000 in property taxes each year, Ald. Rainey said.
Some not-for-profits make payments-in-lieu to the City, in amounts equal to the City’s portion of the property tax (about 20 percent of the property tax bill).
Council delayed voting on the proposed special use at the July 23 meeting so interim City Manager Rolanda Russell could meet with National-Louis representatives to negotiate a payment-in-lieu. Ms. Russell recommended an annual payment of about $9,500, which National-Louis declined to make.
Ald. Rainey said she was not asking National-Louis to pay taxes but to “pay its fair share” and “make a contribution to the City.”
Comparing this discussion to the previous one about Trader Joe’s held just minutes beforehand, Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, said, “The developer of that property was asked to pay $4,500 annually, and we were told they’re being railroaded.” He added, “To take this program away from the City of Evanston would be a shock to me.”
Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, in whose Seventh Ward the building lies, said, “To tax 60 handicapped students and no others when there are thousands of students sends the wrong message. It is ironic that we would be at a point where this kind of contretemps would be put to the Council.”
Jack Lawlor, attorney for National-Louis, said there are ripple effects to providing an education, and these are “larger in scale” and they come “in a way that families and temples and churches just can’t provide. … In the case of the PACE program it is a much more poignant education because these students learn to live independently and become tax-paying citizens.”
Mr. Lawlor also noted that National-Louis had reduced its footprint in Evanston by returning its former campus – located north of Isabella Street on Sheridan Road – to the tax rolls, with a net gain of $40,000 in taxes per year.
During the discussion, while the vote was still uncertain, Mayor Lorraine Morton said, “There is a spirit [of compassion] that prevails in Evanston … and we can’t go back.” She said in case of a tie vote, she would cast her vote for the special use for the dormitory.