On Jan. 23, the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) unanimously recommended a special use for Evanston Township High School’s proposed day school/alternative school at1233-35 Hartrey Ave. The school would return to Evanston 20 – possibly up to 40 – students with emotional and behavioral issues who are now being educated at alternative schools in other districts.
The space is in a large building that wraps around Hartrey Avenue onto Dempster Street. Reed Beidler, who owns the property, said at the Nov. 27 City Council meeting the day school would fit well in the mix of other tenants there. Among those tenants are Goldfish Swim, where young children learn to swim; Evanston KinderCare, for children ages 6 weeks to 5 years; and Have Dreams, which provides services for adults on the autism spectrum. Sugar and Spice, a commercial bakery, has offered apprenticeships to clients of Have Dreams, he said.
ETHS says bringing the students back to Evanston would be beneficial not only to the students themselves but to the taxpayers of School District 202. The day school would educate special education students who require services that are not currently provided at ETHS but at a location near the high school, so, when possible and appropriate, the students could take classes or participate in after-school activities at the main campus.
Some of these students sometimes spend up to an hour each way being transported from Evanston to their current schools, and the District spends between $40,000 and $50,000 per student in tuition. Having the students return to Evanston for schooling would not only improve the students’ days, by reducing the travel time, but also reduce or eliminate the tuition paid to other schools.
While the high school’s proposal has received support in some areas of the community, and opposition in other areas, zoning is the linchpin, and City Council makes the ultimate decision in zoning matters. The area is zoned industrial (I2), and the City’s zoning code does not permit educational institutions, even as special uses, in an I2 district. Even so, the high school did apply for a special use, which was rejected.
ETHS’s next step was to apply for a text amendment to the City’s Zoning Code, asking that the category of special uses allowed in an I2 district be expanded to include educational institutions.
In November, the City’s Plan Commission approved a recommendation for a text amendment that would allow the school to seek a special use, and an ordinance incorporating the text amendment was approved for introduction at the Nov. 27 City Council meeting.
At that Nov. 27 Council meeting, Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, objected to the text amendment. She referred to a similar situation several years ago when Joan Dachs Bais Yaakov Elementary School in Chicago, which wished to expand to Evanston on the property behind the Target and Jewel Food stores on Howard Street, sued the City for not changing the zoning to allow the school. The City prevailed in the lawsuit.
On Jan. 17, the City’s Design and Project Review Committee gave unanimous approval, with conditions about parking, for a recommendation for a special use.
At the Jan. 23 meeting, Mary Rodino, CFO of ETHS, recapped the school’s reasoning for applying for the special use.
Three speakers at the meeting said they objected to the lack of proper notice for the Plan Commission meeting in November when the text amendment was considered.
Residents on the west side of Hartrey Avenue did not receive mail notice of the meeting, said Darlene Cannon.
ZBA chair Mary Beth Bern said consideration of notice is outside the purview of the ZBA and suggested that they take their complaint to the City Manager.
ETHS attorney Brian Crowley and Zoning Administrator Scott Mangum each said that notice of a proposed text amendment is made by publication in a newspaper, and that was done in this case. Mail notification is not required, because a text amendment – changing the zoning of type of districts – affects more than one area of town. Notice of a proposed map amendment – which affects only a certain specific area of the community – is properly made by mail, each said.
In discussing the application for a special use, ZBA members focused on safety and parking and included six conditions with their approval.
ZBA member Mary McAuley noted that the industrial area there was giving way to service organizations and that the City approves of adaptive re-use.
On Jan. 23, the ZBA gave unanimous approval of the special use for the day school, with the following conditions: that employees not park on Hartrey Avenue, that a bike rack for 12 bicycles be installed, that the parking lot be re-striped, that parking spaces be clearly labeled, that no drop-offs occur in the street, and that signs would be posted, alerting people to the fact of the school.
No date has been set yet for Council to consider the ordinance for the text amendment or the special use, but it is likely the two will be considered together.