City working to redevelop land in west Evanston


(Daily file photo by Daniel Tian) Evanston Township High School is near an area in west Evanston where the city is trying to acquire several tax delinquent properties. The land would likely be used either for additional green space in the neighborhood or affordable housing.

Nora Shelly, City Editor

City officials are working on acquiring several properties in west Evanston through a Cook County program.

The program allows municipalities to acquire tax-delinquent properties for affordable housing or other community uses if taxes have not been paid for at least two years. Aldermen approved city staff go through with the application process at a City Council meeting in December. According to council documents, the city is applying to acquire 11 properties in west Evanston.

Nine of the properties are along an area formerly used as a railroad-owned area just west of Green Bay Road. The other two are vacant properties in west Evanston.

Sarah Flax, the city’s housing and grants administrator, said most of the properties are underutilized former industrial properties or vacant. Many of them, including most in the former railroad right of way, are not accessible from a street unless grouped together.

Flax said there is room for improvement in that area of the city.

“It’s a significant territory overall that really affects a significant part of Evanston directly — because of its size — and indirectly all of Evanston because we want to help development areas that have languished,” she said. “There is land that can be put to much better use.”

The attempt to acquire the properties fits into the city’s West Evanston Development Master Plan, which was passed in 2006. The city passed zoning ordinances that fit with the plan in 2009, zoning coordinator Scott Mangum said.

Redeveloping parcels of land the city is trying to acquire will allow it to accomplish several goals, Flax said, including adding more affordable housing to the city and extending the street grid through the former railroad-owned area. Currently, several streets dead end near the area, including Jackson Avenue and Davis Street.

Three of the parcels the city is looking to acquire may go toward creating green space and facilitating an east-west pedestrian and bike path over the railroad right of way where Grove and Davis streets dead end, according to council documents.

Flax said it would be important to acquire the properties together, as many are inaccessible from a roadway.

“A lot of this land, you really can’t do anything with it, unless its aggregated and developed to address a larger plan,” she said. “They’re not fulfilling their highest and best use, partially because they are not accessible and developable by themselves.”

Mangum said the West Evanston Development Master Plan was partially created to ensure that no property would be developed for one use that would conflict with the use of a neighboring property.

Although Evanston Township High School is around the area of the West Evanston Development Master Plan, Mangum said the presence of the school had little impact on the plan.

Although the city is moving forward with applying to acquire the properties, Flax said there was no guarantee they would succeed.

“There’s always a chance for the owners to redeem the back taxes and any other penalties and fees,” she said. “There’s nothing fast about it.”

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