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An application by the E2 apartment complex for a vacation rental license stirred memories of past debate, plus a preview of coming arguments against the pending 831 Emerson apartment complex on Dec. 14. In the end, the application passed over a single “no” vote.

Maybeth Roth, who said she lives across the street from E2, objected, citing “problems with some noise.” The issue, she said, centered on students living in theE2 development when the expectation was for downtown Chicago professionals. The new “private dorm” at 831 Emerson St. will only exacerbate the problem, she indicated.

The vacation rental ordinance stirred significant debate in 2013, when City Council passed the measure as a way to combat short-term rental of properties, particularly property near the Northwestern University football stadium. A couple of homeowners were renting rooms during football season, and neighbors at the time objected to the influx of unknown inhabitants and loud parties.

The E2 proposal could not be much more different from the vacation rentals near Central Street. Director of Community Development Mark Muenzer said the application was for a guest suite to be reserved by tenants of the building. Guest suites are for friends or relatives who come so they can stay in the same building as the tenant.

Justin Pease, the building manager at E2, said the guest unit would be available only to current tenants on a reservation basis. The rental may be occupied by tenants themselves if repairs or upgrades are needed on a tenant’s unit. The guest unit will be “adjacent to the amenities deck,” he said, and E2 “pictures it as [an amenity] for out-of-town guests and students.”

E2 “was sold to us as a building for people working downtown,” said Ms. Roth. “I am concerned that our little 30-townhouse complex caught between these two buildings” – E2 and the new “private dorm” at 831 Emerson St. She described a post-semester party at which Kellogg School students were hanging out on balconies celebrating the end of classes.  

“We would have expected Kellogg students to be a little more mature,” said Mr. Pease.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said there seemed to be some confusion in that the license was for a single unit within the complex, and not any and every unit. “It’s only one specific unit,” he said, unit 404E. He thanked E2 for making the application and letting the City know of its plans. The unit is “not something that will be on Airbnb or anything like that,” he said.

Aldermen Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, and Jane Grover, 7th Ward, each mentioned their experiences with similar units on other complexes, saying they were very useful and appreciated amenities. “It was a real convenience,” said Ald. Tendam.

But Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, was not convinced. “I still have a problem with this taking away from out hotel revenue,” she said. Further, she noted that vacation rentals do not pay hotel taxes.

The measure passed 8-1 at the Council meeting, over Ald. Fiske’s “no” vote.