Evanston zoning board rejects controversial bed-and-breakfast

The Evanston Zoning Board of Appeals shot down a proposed bed-and-breakfast by local billionaire James Pritzker at a meeting Tuesday night. The matter will now go before Evanston's City Council.

Oliver Ortega/The Daily Northwestern

The Evanston Zoning Board of Appeals shot down a proposed bed-and-breakfast by local billionaire James Pritzker at a meeting Tuesday night. The matter will now go before Evanston’s City Council.

Oliver Ortega, Reporter

Evanston’s Zoning Board of Appeals on Tuesday night voted 4-2 against a controversial bed-and-breakfast proposal from local billionaire James N. Pritzker, but the City Council still has the final say.

Concerned residents, board members and an attorney representing Pritzker’s firm clashed over the planned five-room bed-and-breakfast during the meeting at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center. The proposed bed-and-breakfast at 1622 Forest Place would be the billionaire investor’s second in Evanston. The building in question is two houses away from the first business, which is still being renovated.

The properties are located in a special single-family residential zone within Evanston’s Lakeshore Historic District. They have drawn the ire of nearby residents who argue the businesses will bring down property values and increase traffic in the area.

“My concern is that we now have two within 50 feet of each other, and I worry we’re setting a precedent as a board and town,” said Tom O’Brien, who lives nearby.

One sticking point was the relationship between Pritzker and his business partner on the application, Dawn Overend. Overend owns less than 5 percent of the company operating the proposed business, Patriot Park LLC, and will live at the bed-and-breakfast to comply with a zoning regulations, an arrangement with which some board members took issue.

“Buying into 99 percent of an LLC and sticking a manager in there to manage the property is extremely troublesome, and not what the makers of the ordinance had in mind,” board member Scott Gingold said.

Board member Beth McLennan voted for approval, arguing the bed-and-breakfast would improve the city’s hospitality options. She also chided other board members for negatively characterizing the company and Pritzker.

“There’s been an undercurrent of what this LLC is and what this man Pritzker is doing.” McLennan said. “An LLC isn’t such a strange thing.”

But she said she was concerned with the lack of support shown by nearby residents, in contrast with meetings for the first bed-and-breakfast.

Gingold said he was bothered by the proposal for the second bed-and-breakfast, noting that Pritzker’s attorney, Andrew Scott, had said Pritzker didn’t plan on building more.

“Mr. Scott indicated there wasn’t a grand plan to have a series of bed-and-breakfasts, yet here we are a year later with a second one and maybe more on the way,” Gingold said.

Pritzker is also poised to acquire Evanston’s Harley Clarke Mansion, 2603 Sheridan Road, a historic lakefront building currently housing the Evanston Art Center that he wants to convert into a boutique hotel.

The issue took on added significance during the 1st Ward aldermanic race earlier this month when incumbent Judy Fiske criticized challenger Ed Tivador for accepting a $1,000 donation from Overend.

The zoning board’s decision is non-binding, and the council overturned the board’s ruling for Pritzker’s first bed-and-breakfast at 300 Church St. two years ago.

Scott told The Daily he is confident the council will approve the proposal, although he said he was not surprised the zoning board had voted against the proposal.