A proposal to turn a stately home at 300 Church St. into a bed and breakfast, to be owned by an limited liability company 98 percent owned by its immediate neighbor Jay Pritzker, came close to passage at the Sept. 12 City Council meeting. Council rejected a recommendation by the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) to deny the requested special use permit and instead sent the matter back to City staff to draft an ordinance permitting the use.
The vote was 7 to 2, with Alds. Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, and Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, voting no. The dozens of residents filled Council chambers during the Planning and Development meeting seemed divided almost 50-50 on the matter as reflected during citizen comment. A roughly equal number spoke in favor and against the special use.
The proposal would turn the historic home at 300 Church St. into a bed and breakfast with four guest rooms. The house is located directly next to the home of Jay Pritzker, which Alderman Ann Rainey called “pristine,” and said that Colonel Pritzker told her that he planned to “make that house as nice as this house.”
Several problems concerned the zoning board, and two formed the focus of objections made by citizens and Alds. Wynne and Fiske. First, the existing ordinance allowing bed and breaksfasts in Evanston requires the establishments to be owner-occupied. The idea, said Ald. Wynne, is that a home owner can supplement income by renting out a room or two and serving breakfast.
Instead, critics said, 300 Church St. will be owned by a limited liability company (L.L.C.). The manager of the home will own but 1 or 2 percent of the LLC while Col. Pritzker, a neighbor but not resident in the home, will own the other 98 percent. This arrangement would violate the intent of the ordinance said both Alds. Wynne and Fiske. “The proper description of what is being offered is a boutique guest hotel,” said Ald. Fiske.
Parking and “congestion” was another problem cited by the projects critics. The general feeling that the lakefront should not be commercial, and the City should not allow business interests to bleed into what Ald. Fiske called “fragile” residential areas also concerned a number of residents.
Pshaw, said Ald. Rainey. “This is a fake issue,” she said. “The parking is a fake issue. … I just haven’t heard one good, real argument” against the project. She pointed to all the money that would pour into the project, the promise of historic preservation of a beautiful home, and the quality guests that would stay at the bed and breakfast and spend their money downtown as reasons to support the project. “Aldermen Wynne and Fiske, I just don’t believe you are not supporting this,” she added.
Nevertheless, they did not support it. But they were the only two, as Alderman Delores Holmes, 5thWard, and Chair Don Wilson, 4th Ward, joined Ald. Rainey at Planning and Development to reject the zoning board’s recommendation. At full Council, the lakefront aldermen could find no more support, and Council rejected the zoning board recommendation, affirming the bed-and-breakfast, 7-2.
The matter now goes back to City staff to prepare an ordinance allowing the special use for the Planning and Development Committee’s consideration at its next meeting. The motion, presented by Ald. Wilson, directs staff to include zoning board and citizen concerns as conditions to attach to the special use, so the argument in some ways has just begun. Although further spirited debate of this issue can be expected in two weeks, it will shift from whether 300 Church St. will be a bed and breakfast to under what conditions it can operate.