City Council introduced, by 7-2 vote, a proposed ordinance that would allow a bed and breakfast at 1622 Forest, just two doors down from a Church Street bed and breakfast approved last year. The owner of the two establishments will be Tawani Enterprises, LLC, an entity owned by Colonel James Pritzker.
Supporters of the proposed B&B packed council chambers Monday night, June 10, far outnumbering opponents. The measure came to the Planning and Development Committee with a negative recommendation from the Zoning Board of Appeals, which voted 4-2 that the use would have a “negative cumulative effect” on the neighborhood due to the close proximity of the second B&B and that the use was contrary to the Evanston Comprehensive Plan.
The proposal, which will be debated in full at the next Council meeting now that it has been introduced, comes in the middle of the debate over the Harley Clark mansion and its proposed sale to Col. Pritzker, a deal that Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl confirmed, during the June 17 Council meeting, is still in the works. Andrew Scott of Dykema Gossett, Tawani’s attorney, confirmed that Pritzker has purchased several other homes in the area as well.
Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st ward, confronted Mr. Scott about his comments during the Church Street B&B debtate. “You said Col. Pritzker was not going to apply for any more B&Bs,” she said.
Mr. Scott said that at the time he made that statement “there were no plans” for additional B&Bs. He also said that all of the other homes purchased by Col. Pritzker “are intended to be rental single family homes.”
Alderman Don Wilson, 4th ward, said that a proliferation of bed and breakfasts along the lakefront could become a problem. “I am concerned about the possibility of not just two, but four or five filling up the block… My understanding when we approved the first was that there would be one,” he said, adding that at such numbers the B&Bs would negatively affect other local hotels. “That said, I don’t think we’re at that point [with two]. But we’re precariously close to that point,” he said.
Ald. Wilson also questioned the economics of the project. Mr. Scott said that Col. Pritzker planned to inject $5 to $5.5 million into renovating the property. “I am a bit curious. Do you have a sense of what the rooms will cost?” asked Ald. Wilson.
Mr. Scott replied, “$150 to $200 per room.”
“How do you make money?” asked Ald. Wilson.
“You can’t,” replied Mr. Scott. Col. Pritzker has a deep commitment to historic preservation, he said, and wants to pass these homes down as a legacy. He views these projects not on a five-year timeframe but much longer. “It’s not meant to turn a profit, necessarily,” he added, but to generate enough revenue to cover ongoing maintenance and real estate taxes.
The amount of money going to preservation certainly impacted the Preservation Commission’s vote in favor of the project. The Committee wrestled briefly with the contradictory advice received from two advising bodies, one in favor and one (the ZBA) opposed.
“We cannot pick and choose when we heed the Preservation Commission,” said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th ward, a recent vote on the Northwestern Visitor’s Center apparently slipping her mind. Moments later, she called the ZBA a “recommending body” that “we don’t have to agree with…”
Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th ward, agreed with her, saying “sometimes we just have different views” than the ZBA.
Absent from the debate so far is the argument concerning ownership that was front and center during the Church Street B&B debate. At that time, Council questioned whether an LLC, with a majority owner who does not live in the B&B, can own such an establishment. Efforts to amend the ordinance and change the ownership requirement, as well as adding a distance requirement that would have eliminated the possibility of having two B&Bs so close together, failed shortly after the Church Street vote.
The measure proceeds on to Council. Whether another similar debate over another property will soon follow remains to be seen.