This lot at 917 Edgemere Court has been vacant for several years. Photo from City Council packet

Adam Sabow and Sue Lee’s dream house on Lake Michigan may be a few months or more from groundbreaking. Both design and procedure account for the delay.

The property, 917 Edgemere Ct., sits in the Lakeshore Historic District. On June 12, the City’s Preservation Division, the City’s Preservation Commission, which oversees construction on historic sites and buildings, denied the couple’s request to build the house as it is currently designed on a lot that has been vacant for nearly a decade. The building materials, the height and scale of the structure and its compatibility with other structures along Edgemere Court were among the concerns of commission members.

One commissioner said the scale is “very different … It comes across as a very different element than on most of the others.” Another said that, although the proposed house appears to be about the same height as neighboring houses, “This is misleading, because many of these other roofs … slope back and away from their front  façades. The notion of being visually compatible is not the case, when one comes across with a flat façade of a height similar to the roof peaks of those homes.” Yet another commission member spoke of the difficulty in designing a new “compatible” house in a historic district on a block with varied architectural styles.

Local architectural firm Morgante Wilson designed the house, and when it seemed Mr. Sabow and Ms. Lee would not succeed before the Preservation Commission, they hired its former chair, Gary Schumacher, as a consultant – to no avail.

The City’s Planning and Development Committee reviews each denial of a “certificate of appropriateness,” in this case to build the home. Mayor Stephen Hagerty skipped that step and placed the review on the City Council’s July 9 agenda. While there was some discussion at the meeting, most of it about the mayor’s misstep, the matter came before City Council on July 23. Aldermen were asked whether to accept or reject a review of the Plan Commission’s decision to deny the certificate of appropriateness.

Several neighbors spoke in favor of the proposed home, saying that Mr. Sabow and Ms. Lee had spent more than two years entwined in red tape.

Mr. Sabow and Ms. Lee wrote in a letter about the process, “The experience for the last 2.5 years has been the opposite of how we expect Evanston to treat its citizens and landowners.  … From our perspective, this should have been an easy process for the commission. It is new construction on a vacant, non-contributing site located in the Lakeshore Historic District, which is arguably the most historically rich and stylistically diverse local historic district in our community. Each design of this home has been fully ‘as of right’ and deemed ‘compliant’ by zoning staff from the beginning of the process … and [we] have, over several meetings and presentations, modified, redesigned and even agreed to a subdivision of property in order to satisfy this commission.”

Diane Williams, Preservation Commission Chair, said if Council decided to review the decision, that would be “a very bad precedent” that would both undermine the commission’s process and hinder its ongoing work.

“I agree with the Preservation Commission,” said Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward. “I think it’s important to follow procedure.” Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said, “The Mayor kind of screwed things up here by sending the case to us instead of the Planning and Development Committee.” She asked how the Preservation Commission would have jurisdiction over the property, since Edgemere Court is a private street.

Carlos Ruiz, Senior Planner/Preservation Coordinator for the City, said the residents of Edgemere Court use the City for garbage, “it’s a public street.” Community Development Director Johanna Leonard said it is considered a “public way.”

Corporation Counsel Michelle Masoncup said, “If it’s in a historic district, it’s covered by the Preservation Commission.” She also said, “If Council denies the appeal, the applicant can go back to the Preservation Commission.”

Ald. Wynne said the Council could not force but could encourage the applicant to return to the Preservation Commission. Mr. Schumacher said, “The next step is circuit court.” Aldermen voted 5-3 not to accept the appeal. Fourth Ward Alderman Don Wilson was absent from meeting.

It is not clear what Mr. Sabow and Ms. Lee, both Northwestern graduates and 20-year residents of Evanston, plan to do next. 

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...