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City Council met for the first time since the recent municipal elections April 14 carrying a heavy but largely non-controversial agenda. Newly elected members Mark Tendam, Jane Grover and Don Wilson joined the meetings, but on the audience side (newly elected Alderman Judy Fiske was spotted down the hall in the Preservation Committee meeting). On the whole, Council took a bit of a reprieve from the weighty matters of the previous month to celebrate a Business Week honor, grant Carroll Properties another concession, and wrestle again with affordable housing decisions made long ago.

 

At City Council, Mayor Lorraine Morton announced that Business Week named Evanston one of the top 50 small cities (20,000 to 200,000) in the nation to start a new business. Business Week selected one small city from each state rather than ranking them nationwide, with Evanston being Illinois‘ representative.

 

During the Planning and Development Committee meeting, Carroll Properties sought a change in the

1890 Maple Street

development that will allow them to convert office space into 23 additional residential units. Because the Trader Joe’s deal fell through, a change in the project layout will add the residential units in place of what would have been offices. While on the surface this matter is controversial, and the vote of  5-3 at Planning and Development and 6-3 at Council shows disagreement among Council members, the unique nature of the ordinance in question makes it less so. The original ordinance allowed swap of office for residential, but did not specify numbers. The new ordinance simply adds a number of residences to be swapped for the office space.

 

More serious questions surrounded the need for notice to neighbors of the proposed change. None was sent out, and technically it was probably not required. Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, urged staff to “err on the side of notice” and notify neighbors, or require the developer to do so, for any similar matters in the future.

 

Council addressed earlier efforts to build new affordable housing units again, this time with the development at 241 Callan. Over the past several months, as each of the affordable housing units subsidized by the City continues to sit on the market unsold, the City has attempted to keep the efforts alive and avoid foreclosure. With 241 Callan, the developer and City staff agreed that for the sort term, renting the condo units to generate enough cash flow to stave off foreclosure is the best path. Such a plan requires City Council approval, however. Further, because of HUD requirements, 2 of the 5 units must be affordable under the HUD definition, and with only 3 units being full rent the developers cash flow would not be sufficient. The solution: shift $60,000 from the City’s affordable housing fund into the City’s HUD HOME fund account. With this accounting maneuver, the developer is allowed to rent 4 at full rent and only one as affordable housing. Council reluctantly agreed, and as a result, ironically, the City has lost $60,000 in affordable housing funds, gained $60,000 in HOME fund credit, and lost an affordable housing unit. The good news: when the developer sells these units, two will still have to be sold as affordable even if only one rented as such. Also, the developer must pay all taxes owed.

 

Re-inspection fees for delinquent Landlords will now be the law. Council passed an ordinance that allows the City to assess fines when an inspector visits a rental property only to find that the Landlord, or a manager, is not there to allow the inspector access. On the second no-show, fines of between $150 (for the second re-inspection) to $500 (for the fourth and subsequent re-inspections) may be levied.

 

Surprisingly, the Cultural Fund Program Awards created mild controversy when Alderman and Mayor-elect Elizabeth Tisdahl, Seventh Ward, objected to the expenditure of any City funds for this program this year. She cited in particular, the ballroom dancing program, saying, “The City simply cannot afford [it] this year.” Alderman Edmund B. Moran, Jr. disagreed, saying, “This is the wrong place and the wrong time to make this decision [to cut funding].”  Alderman Cheryl Wollin, First Ward, pointed out that the deadline to apply for these funds was in November and it is not fair to cut funds at this late stage in the process. Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, Second Ward, agreed, adding, “The time to make this decision was in budget talks.” The item passed 8-1, with Tisdahl casting the lone nay vote