Concept drawing of The AUX Project, proposed for the former EZ Spuds building 2223 Washington St.

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Businesses include Laundry Café and vocational school

A City zoning committee recommended Feb. 16 in favor of granting special use zoning to a mixed use business model that includes a business/vocational school and laundry café to the former EZ Spud property at 2223 Washington St.

But members of the Zoning Board of Appeals conditioned their backing of the proposal on the need for a traffic study, responding to concerns about traffic congestion and pedestrian safety from residents who live in the single-family neighborhood that abuts the site.

The ZBA recommendation next goes to the Evanston City Council, which has final authority of the issue.

The developers of the AUX Project are proposing renovating the existing EZ Spud building into mixed-use space for a number of businesses, including the Laundry Café, nail and hair salons, offices for a business/vocational school, a personal training and wellness coaching business, and pop-up retail.

Tosha Wilson, a detective with the Evanston Police Department, and her cousin Jacqui White, a police officer in Highland Park, are co-creators of the laundry café project.

At the Feb. 15 ZBA hearing, Ms. Wilson described the enterprise as “a commercial hub dedicated to healing, wellness, and virtual equity. Our goals are to support Black entrepreneurs and social enterprises.”

She said there is a communal aspect to the collection of businesses as well.
Someone might use the Laundry Café to wash their clothes, she said, but “you can also bring your kids to have family yoga time. We’re all working together to heal our community one person at a time.”

Addressing parking and traffic flow concerns, Juli Kaufmann, the purchasing agent for The Growing Season, a non-profit organization, told ZBA members that access to the business will come through the alley from
Main Street, known as “the Pitner Avenue alley,” with egress from the north side. Cars will then enter a 30-space parking lot. She said egress will also be through the Pitner Avenue alley.

Residents at the meeting, held virtually because of social distancing constraints, raised concern about traffic congestion and neighborhood safety issues.

In a written statement as well as testimony at the meeting, Clark Elliott, a resident on Washington Street, urged Commissioners to make no change in the zoning of the property “without absolute guarantees from the City that they will not seek to open the cul-de-sacs on Washington or Hartrey, or at any other location in our neighborhood in the decades to come.”

“Research is clear that cul-de-sacs reduce crime and make neighborhoods safer for our children,” he wrote. “Our beautiful neighborhood is defined by the safety of our cul-de-sacs, and our property values are at stake as well. If Pitner Avenue is not sufficient to bear the traffic for retail businesses and private schools, the rezoning should be denied,” he argued.

Ms. Kaufmann, in response, said her group has no intention to make any changes to the cul-de-sacs. She said there is hope the new use will enhance safety in the neighborhood, where “currently there’s not a lot of eyes on the street.

“Our hope would be that our signage, our access points, and our users do nothing but improve the neighborhood for all kids, neighbors, our customers, our employees,” she told the Commission.

Ms. Wilson said she also understood the cul-de-sac issue. Her grandfather has lived in the other side of Pitner Avenue since 1956, she said.
“So I understand the cul-de-sac, I understand their [pedestrian] safety – I understand playing Double Dutch and riding my bikes. We all understand that issue,” she assured neighbors.

Commission members voted 4-1 in favor of a recommendation of special- use zoning for the mixed-use business model, tacking on conditions.
The conditions included the recommendation that City staff analyze the traffic, parking, and pedestrian impacts of the area to determine if there is a negative cumulative effect due to the proposed use.

In discussion, Commission member Lisa Dziekan described the proposal as “complex” in the way it impacts the neighborhood. “On the one hand,” she said, “I really can’t imagine a better use here for a building kind of tucked in here, into [a] neighborhood that has complex travel problems.”
In one sense, she said the project presents a great opportunity for neighbors to take the proposal and use it and do some of the work from a traffic pattern perspective that should have been done, in my view, in years past.”

But Ms. Dziekan said she also had concerns about voting in favor of the zoning change without the information a traffic study would provide.

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.