Constituents discuss the Margarita Inn with City Council Member Jonathan Nieuwsma at Tuesday’s Fourth Ward meeting. Credit: Screenshot via Susy Schultz

About half of the members of the Margarita Inn Good Neighbor Agreement committee who will work out expectations and a communication plan for the Connections for the Homeless shelter have been chosen as the group faces a tight deadline, City Council Member Jonathan Nieuwsma, 4th Ward, told a meeting of his constituents Tuesday. 

About 38 people volunteered to be part of the group, which is not mandated by the city, and all involved are eager to get the rest in place. When all are set, Nieuwsma said he will announce the names. The group is expected to be a positive good-faith step as the shelter seeks a special use zoning permit to continue running the homeless shelter it started in 2020 at the then-shuttered boutique hotel. 

City Council Member Jonathan Nieuwsma speaks to about 20 people at the Oct. 4 Fourth Ward meeting. Credit: Evan Girard

Nieuwsma said the makeup of the committee is being taken from seven stakeholder groups, including residents who are homeowners, condo owners and renters as well as representatives from the faith community – those people were chosen as of Oct. 2. The rest of the representatives must come from business owners in the downtown area, property owners or landlords and people from Connections or the Margarita Inn. The deadline for the committee to be formed is ASAP, he added. 

The 10-12 person working group will draft and ultimately sign the agreement expected to be presented to the Land Use Commission when it considers the permit. 

Connections formally submitted its application Sept. 28 and now there is a 30-day clock ticking for the organization to negotiate a sales contract for the hotel, which will be contingent on the approval of the zoning permit application. It is expected the Land Use Commission will consider the permit at a special Nov. 30 meeting. The ultimate decision will then be with the City Council, Nieuwsma said, which he expects to come in January or Feburary.

Technically there are no other licenses for shelters in Evanston, as others are operated by religious organizations in the city and therefore exempt from the licensing process. So, this special use permit would be a new license for a noncongregant shelter.

The shelter, which has the maximum capacity to house 63 residents, has been a point of contentious discussion in a number of public meetings as some neighbors have complained about residents. 

Connections for the Homeless’ Nia Tavoularis, Director of Development and Communications, talks about the Margarita Inn on Oct. 4 at the Fourth Ward meeting. Credit: Screenshot via Susy Schultz

Nia Tavoularis, Connections’ Director of Development and Communications, was at the ward meeting to answer questions and explained that the Margarita Inn is not an emergency shelter but a place where screened residents stay for an indefinite period of time until they find housing. They also receive a variety of support toward the goal of independent living, she said.

The Good Neighbor Agreement is an extra step being taken, and not required for the license. But it has been done in other places, such as Oak Park, and the process opened up a dialogue for the neighborhood and the facility.

The about 20 ward residents who were at the meeting also heard about the city’s Climate Action Plan from Nieuwsma as well as redistricting, a committee he chairs. They discussed the ramifications of the razing of the Vogue Fabrics store building and construction of its replacement as well as when the new movie theater will open. (Summary: The building demolition caused more rats to emerge, putting up pylons is causing shaking and no, no one has an exact date for the theater opening.) 

Susy Schultz is the editor of the Evanston Roundtable. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years, and is the former president of Public Narrative, a nonprofit dedicated to teaching journalists and...