Council OKs examination of Fifth Ward Tax district

Breanne Gilpatrick

The Daily Northwestern

When asked about development in her area, Fifth Ward residentDelores Holmes’ first response is, “What development?”

Holmes, chairwoman of the Evanston Community Development Corp.,said something needs to happen in the neighborhood near theintersection of Church Street and Dodge Avenue because right now,it mostly consists of vacant land and dilapidated buildings.

“There’s no development going on in the area, and there used tobe years ago,” Holmes said. “It’s a viable area and a viablecommunity.”

Last week the Evanston City Council took the first step toencouraging new development in the Church and Dodge area when itvoted 7-2 to study the possibility of creating a special taxdistrict in parts of the Second and Fifth wards.

Creating a tax increment financing (TIF) district would freezeproperty assessment values and put a cap on tax revenues that go tothe city for 23 years. Any additional tax revenue generated wouldgo directly to encouraging redevelopment in district.

ECDC recommended the study to the city’s economic developmentcommittee, but some aldermen and residents are not sure a TIFdistrict is the best way to redevelop the struggling area.

Fifth Ward resident Betty Ester has been part of her community’seffort to study development in the Church and Dodge neighborhoodsince 2000. Ester said although a TIF district has been mentionedas a possible tool for helping the area, there needs to be morediscussion of specifically how it would aid development and helpthe neighborhood.

Ester said the area needs affordable housing, better publictransportation, a stronger economy and improved public safety, andadded that any development in the area needs to focus first onproviding those things for the people who live there.

“(The TIF) should not just be for the benefit of the developer,”Ester said. “If (Evanston is) going to have this, it should be forour benefit.”

At last week’s council meeting, Ald. Joseph Kent (5th) said hehad yet to see how creating a TIF district near Church and Dodgewould benefit residents in his ward. Kent was one of two aldermento vote against authorizing the study. He said voting to spend$52,500 on a feasibility study without more information on itseffects would be “irresponsible.”

“I don’t think that this plan is finished,” Kent said. “I’m notinterested in anyone bringing me back a study saying a TIF can bedone there without saying how the residents would benefit.”

Ald. Arthur Newman (1st), who voted with Kent against conductingthe study, said at the council meeting that instead of funding afeasibility study, the city should be studying boundaries for a TIFdistrict, the goals of the area and if any sites could provide theeconomic growth needed to achieve those goals.

Ald. Ann Rainey (8th), who had a similar study done along herward’s Howard Street about a year and a half ago, said at themeeting that the TIF study could provide information needed forfurther council decisions.

“The first step is the important step, so we can have theneutral and factual information to allow us to move forward,”Rainey said.

Ald. Lionel Jean-Baptiste (2nd) said Thursday the entire areaalong Dodge stretching from Emerson Street to Dempster Street iscrying out for relief and that the city has a responsibility tolead the way for development.

“That area has been stagnant for many, many years,”Jean-Baptiste said. “The leadership of the area has been waiting todo something for many years.”

Although coming up with a plan for the Church and Dodge areawon’t be easy, Jean-Baptiste added that something needs to be doneto correct the inequity between that neighborhood and Evanston’swealthier areas.

“Maybe it’s not comprehensive enough, maybe it’s not narrowenough, but leadership is leadership,” he said. “We’ve been electedto provide a direction and sometimes you can’t wait forultra-democracy.”

Reach Breanne Gilpatrick at [email protected].