A group is hoping to transform the former E-Z Spuds building at 2223 Washington St. into a business center, including a laundry café. (RoundTable photo)

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A proposal to make the vacant E-Z Spuds site into a new home for a collection of businesses, including a laundry café, has moved a step closer to approval.
Evanston City Council members voted in favor of introducing the proposal at the April 12 City Council meeting and could vote to approve the zoning request at the April 26 meeting.

The Growing Season, a Milwaukee-based non-profit, is proposing to renovate the interior of the former E-Z Spuds building at 2223 Washington St., located just to the east of the Main Street Commons Shopping Center in an industrial district.

The development would house a collection of small businesses in the space, including The Laundry Café,  an idea conceived by police officers Tosha Wilson, a detective with the Evanston Police Department, and her cousin Jacqui White, an officer in Highland Park; nail and hair salons, a medical office with an emphasis on wellbeing; a commercial kitchen and more.

At the Feb. 15 Zoning Board of Appeals hearing on the project, 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.”

As part of the plan, Sunshine Enterprises is seeking a special use to operate a business/vocational school out of the center.

In statements at the April 12 City Council meeting, residents Carlis Sutton and Tina Paden urged aldermen to vote “no” on the proposal granting special zoning on the project, raising concern about the connection of Fifth Ward Alderman Robin Rue Simmons’ with Sunshine Enterprises and the Second Ward project.

During brief Council discussion, Ald. Simmons announced she would recuse herself from the vote on the zoning request, but stressed she did not feel there was a conflict because of a past relationship with Sunshine.

Responding to the comments, Ald. Simmons noted that behind the plan for the new business center, there is a “brilliant [group] of Black and women business owners here in Evanston,” but it “is not my business,” she stressed, referring to Sunshine. “And I wish we would talk more about the actual businesses that have worked a very long time, along with community support to launch this.

“Sunshine Enterprises is a non-profit that was my employer for over five years, and not my business,” she said. “What I will say is that Sunshine has supported over a thousand entrepreneurs – a few hundred of them Evanstonians, including one of the businesses that is looking to open, and at least a dozen businesses that have opened here. So I just want to take Sunshine out of a bad light and acknowledge there is no conflict.

“Even now, there could be a perception,” she said, “and for that reason I will recuse myself to keep from any further confusion or potential conflict, although there is absolutely no conflict,” she said, inviting other aldermen to provide further light on Sunshine’s role.

Second Ward Alderman Peter Braithwaite said the group of women that has purchased the 2223 Washington building have invited some local businesses to be lessees, “and Sunshine has not been confirmed to my knowledge.”

The City’s Zoning Board voted at its Feb. 16 meeting to recommend granting special use zoning for a mixed-use business model on the site.

In the project, developers are proposing to renovate the interior of the building, adding new restrooms, a fire sprinkler system, and fire alarm system, said City Zoning Administrator Melissa Klotz in a memo.

The exterior is to include a re-striped parking lot and possibly a vehicular and/or pedestrian connection to the neighboring parking lot to the west near Sam’s Club, she said.

At the Feb. 16 Zoning Board meeting, residents of nearby properties raised concerns, most of them about traffic.

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-side-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.

Juli Kaufmann, purchasing agent for The Growing Season, said in response 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 Zoning Board.