Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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In 7th Ward, plan for small homes causes big uproar

Shun Graves/The Daily Northwestern
A developer’s proposal to build 12 efficiency homes on a narrow lot has faced blowback from residents before a City Council vote on Monday, Feb. 26.

Just north of bustling McCormick Boulevard, residents walked their dogs and sauntered around a quiet Evanston neighborhood lined with townhomes, two-flats and single-family homes Sunday.

But, a narrow, empty lot on Grant Street and the adjoining site of an older house have sparked hubbub in the community. The plot could soon become Evanston’s first pocket neighborhood — a cluster of small homes designed to be as energy-efficient as possible. City Council is set to vote Monday on whether to grant the project a special use permit.

Yet, over the past few months, the lot’s neighbors have intensely campaigned against the proposal for 12 efficiency homes at the site. More than a hundred residents have signed a petition urging the city to reject the “woefully inadequate” plan.

“To have this many people densely packed into this corner, to add to it, just seems a little bit foolhardy,” resident Garin Ferri said.

Many residents said they would welcome a different sort of residential development, or affordable housing, at the lot — though they do not support what the developer proposed.

David Wallach, CEO of Wisconsin-based BluePaint Development, initially submitted the proposal. He said the plan will offer options for younger, middle-market buyers who want to buy their first homes.

According to Wallach’s plans, each of the development’s 600-square-foot, all-electric homes will include two bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen and living areas. The plot will also include 15 parking spaces and a common barbecue area.

This rendering presented by the developer to the city shows the controversial efficiency homes proposed for two adjacent lots on Grant Street. (Courtesy of City of Evanston)

Wallach said the single-family homes will sell for under $350,000 apiece. He commissioned a market study to show demand exists for small homes in Evanston — even if the steep price of up to $600 per square foot stands nearly double the average cost for detached homes.

“It doesn’t change the fact that people who want to live in a single-family environment will be able to do so for $350,000, instead of where they’re currently paying $1,120,000,” Wallach said.

The Land Use Commission voted 4-1 in December to recommend against City Council approval. The commission said the proposal should face evaluation as a planned development instead of receiving a special use permit — which usually allows construction that would otherwise run afoul of a plot’s zoning.

However, both City Council and the Planning and Development Committee voted to advance the special use permit to a final City Council vote. 

Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) opposed the measure at the Feb. 12 council meeting. While she called the idea of a pocket neighborhood a “wonderful concept,” she said the Grant Street project should face higher scrutiny of the planned development process.

The neighbors’ petition, released in December, outlined several concerns. Aside from calling for the planned development process, the petition said the price for such a small home would turn off buyers, encourage short-term rentals and could ultimately doom the homes to “financial failure.”

A group of residents met Saturday with Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th), who voted to advance the proposal earlier this month.

“We have a dual responsibility on the City Council, not just to think narrowly about our particular part of the community, but also what’s in the best interest for the community as a whole,” Revelle told The Daily before the meeting.

Residents who attended the meeting had mixed conclusions. Resident Cara Rudolph said Revelle seemed “fragile” and lacked power over the city’s final decision against a “smarmy” developer. However, resident GionMatthias Schelbert said he hopes Revelle will direct the homes toward planned development consideration.

Schelbert said advocates for the development have misrepresented residents’ concerns. Meanwhile, Wallach said residents described his project inaccurately.

On the heels of a similar uproar over rebuilding Ryan Field last year, City Council also finds itself embroiled in a dispute over spending millions to move city offices downtown.

“Evanston’s all about money now,” Rudolph said. “Just money, money, money, money. Everything’s about money. There’s nothing about neighborhoods anymore.”

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