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An effort by the Plan Commission to loosen the requirements for obtaining zoning variances for second floor additions to structures that are already nonconforming exceptions failed at City Council, because of affordable housing and other concerns. The vote, before a shorthanded Council, was 4-2 against the proposed ordinance.
The change would have streamlined the process for obtaining permission to make second floor additions to a building whose footprint, or foundation, already exceeded zoning requirements because of setbacks, lot coverage, or other issues. Alderman Brian Miller, 9th Ward, said such applications are essentially “automatically approved” with “little fanfare” at the Zoning Board of Appeals easily and without issue, and are so numerous as to clog that body’s agenda.
Alderman Don Wilson, 4thWard, who raised concerns when the matter was introduced, said, “If you consider the cumulative effect, [the changes] make it a little too easy. … These kinds of additions take away from the affordable housing stock in the community.”
“We need to keep homes that cost less,” said Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl. If homeowners want to expand, “they could find another house in Evanston that would meet their needs” rather than build an addition to the home they currently own, she added.
Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said the streamlined process would apply only if the proposed addition “does not affect the minimum lot coverage. …. I’m not sure I see the direct effect between this and affordable housing. I am having trouble making the direct connection.”
While second-story additions do not change lot coverage, said Ald. Wilson, they add to a building that is “already nonconforming. Something that’s already a burden on the neighborhood.”
Notice to neighbors was the concern raised by Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward. “Affected neighbors can come to the Plan Commission” and air their concerns under the current ordinance, she said, adding that the current process is not particularly onerous or difficult. “I think [neighbor input] is something we shouldn’t jettison,” she added.
“Taking the process away is codifying a lack of concern for what I see to be a fundamental question,” said Ald. Wilson. “If you eliminate hurdles,” making it easier for homeowners to increase the nonconforming nature of homes in Evanston, this demonstrates a lack of concern for the impact outsized homes have on the community. “It seems pretty straightforward to me. [The current variation procedure is] a useful process. It preserves something of value in the community.”
With Third Ward Aldermen Melissa Wynne, Sixth Ward Alderman Mark Tendam and Eighth Ward Alderman Ann Rainey absent, only six sat at the dais ready to vote. Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, and Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, joined Alds. Wilson and Fiske to defeat the measure.