The city’s Land Use Commission on May 25.

The Margarita Inn’s 1974 “rooming house” special use permit is expired, the city’s Land Use Commission decided by a 9-0 vote during its meeting Wednesday, May 25. The vote backed an early determination made by a zoning administrator, but it was a setback for the nonprofit operating the inn as a shelter for homeless residents.

Melissa Klotz, the zoning administrator, made two separate determinations in March 2022 – that the Margarita Inn is a “rooming house” by the city’s zoning definition and that the building’s “rooming house” special use permit had expired. 

Earlier that evening, in a 6-3 vote, commissioners upheld Klotz’s determination that the Margarita Inn is a rooming house. Commissioners originally cast their votes two weeks ago, when they voted 4-3 in favor of Klotz’s decision, but the Land Use Commission requires a majority vote, so the matter was revisited on Wednesday.

This second vote backed the other half of Klotz’s determination, deeming the special use permit expired.

Klotz’s determination about the expired status of the permit was based on three reasons: there were structural modifications made without the approval of the planning development committee, the building ceased to operate for more than two consecutive years, and the off-street parking is currently not leased, and has not been consistently leased before.

Kristine Westerberg at the Land Use Commission meeting.

Andrew Scott, an attorney representing Margarita Inn’s owner, presented arguments to invalidate Klotz’s three reasons, but commissioners ultimately sided with Klotz’s original decision. 

“There’s been a lot of ambiguity in the zoning code,” said Commissioner Kristine Westerberg. “It’s somewhat difficult to know what’s going on.”

Still, Westerberg said she agreed with both decisions made by the zoning administrator.

Connections for the Homeless, the nonprofit operating the shelter within the Margarita Inn, plans to submit a new application now that the old one is officially expired.

Monica Forte, an attorney representing Chris Dillow and co-appellant John Cleave, said she was only retained on the matter two days ago. She requested a continuance to have more time to examine documents and materials for the case, but after a 5-4 vote, the continuance was not granted.

Public commenters express concerns

Several community members spoke up during public comment to express concerns about the Margarita inn.

Dianne and Don Durkes, a couple who live near the facility, said the neighborhood has changed as a result of the facility. 

Dianne Durkes said she wants Connections for the Homeless to be a good neighbor immediately, and she hopes the city will ensure the facility is run in a way that isn’t disturbing to the neighborhood.

“That’s why I’m here tonight,” she said. “To demonstrate the need for a zoning code that sets rules and restrictions. A code to protect the residents of the Margarita Inn as well as the neighborhood.”

Another neighbor of the facility, Christina Jiang, said she moved to Evanston nearly 10 years ago and never feared for her safety. But she said on a recent walk with her dog, she was stopped by a stranger who told her someone was following her. “I never thought this could happen in this neighborhood,” said Jiang. 

Related past coverage:

Nonprofit to pursue permit needed to keep operating Margarita Inn as shelter

Emotional meeting about homeless housing at Margarita Inn draws hundreds

Commissioners torn over Margarita Inn zoning decision

Adina Keeling

Adina Keeling is a photojournalist and reporter, covering city news, sustainability, schools, and art. She also investigates mental health systems and environmental injustices in Evanston, and puts together...

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  1. This is a win for accountability both for the failures by Connections for the Homeless at the Margarita Inn and for due process; allowing resident future input and public discourse towards a safe and supportive facility for the residents and neighborhood.

    The City must either deny the forth coming Rooming House application or create a new rigorous special use designation that will create a safe environment for everyone AND require Connections to attempt to qualify.

    We cannot allow the limitations of our zoning code and negligence of our city government to put people at risk and diminish our inclusive, safe, and supportive city.