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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City Council sends efficiency home plan back to committee, extending debate

Shun Graves/The Daily Northwestern
A developer’s plans to build 12 small homes on this narrow Grant Street plot have faced the chagrin of neighbors.

City Council decided 8-0 Monday to send a controversial proposal for the city’s first-ever pocket neighborhood back to committee, extending an ongoing conflict between 7th Ward residents and a real estate developer.

On March 11, residents will have a chance to present their qualms about developer David Wallach’s plan to build 12 small homes on two narrow adjoining lots on Grant Street to the Planning and Development Committee. The project has riled up neighbors due to concerns about the homes’ affordability and impact.

“I think that it is a step in the right direction,” resident Garin Ferri told The Daily after the meeting. “I don’t think that it’s 100% there.”

Wallach, the CEO of Wisconsin-based BluePaint Development, proposed the development of 12 all-electric homes, each outfitted with two bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen and a living space. The 600-square-foot homes would sell for under $350,000 apiece, he added.

Residents have rallied against the proposal. More than a hundred signed a petition seeking further evaluation by the city and arguing the price per square foot is too high. The petition warned that the proposal could become a “financial failure” and a “blight on the neighborhood.”

Meanwhile, Wallach said the proposal would offer a “missing middle” price point for buyers in Evanston seeking their first homes. 

While acknowledging residents’ concerns, Ald. Juan Geracaris (9th) told The Daily the city should make zoning changes to allow for “more and different types of developments.”

Multiple residents also cited a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization filing by the developer in October for his separate manufacturing company, Wally Walls. Wallach’s proposal would have the company supply insulated wall panels for the Grant Street efficiency homes.

Wallach’s development company, BluePaint, has no part in the Chapter 11 process, but his Wally Walls factory in Wisconsin has reportedly remained idle since December. Wallach called the layoff of plant employees temporary and said he secured a partner in Canada to supply the walls. 

However, Wally Walls’ former Chief of Production Michael O’Mara cast doubt on Wallach’s financial solvency and ability to continue his manufacturing business. The factory has entered foreclosure, he added.

“The Kenosha Factory is in the process of retooling to support two assembly lines (being) added to our product line,” Wallach wrote in a statement to The Daily. “In addition, we are completing engineering for two projects scheduled to begin in the next 60 days.”

The Chapter 11 proceedings cast a shadow on public comment and City Council’s discussion Monday. Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th), whose ward includes the proposed plot, introduced the motion to send the plan back to committee.

Councilmembers discussed the concerns of residents, who had packed a committee meeting earlier this month in vehement opposition to the project. Some restated their support for the proposal, which passed a preliminary council vote Feb. 12, but others showed new concern.

“That just gave me pause,” Ald. Krissie Harris (2nd) told The Daily. “I just want to know more. We don’t want to start a project that can’t be finished. Even though it’s not a city project, people get excited, and then we always get the blame for everything. I just want to make sure we’re doing our due diligence.”

The Planning and Development Committee could send a recommendation for a special use permit to City Council again next month. The permit would allow for a development like the current proposal.

However, the committee could send the proposal through further city scrutiny with the planned development process.

Ferri said residents don’t oppose affordable housing or growth in the neighborhood but seek greater evaluation of the pocket neighborhood.

“We have a vested interest in it as the neighbors, and the city should have a vested interest on it, if it’s a model to be replicated,” Ferri added. “Or even one that could be the gold standard nationwide.”

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