The city of Evanston may soon become the owner of an 11,000-square-foot lot at the intersection of Church Street and Darrow Avenue, the site of a former gas station.
At Monday’s city council meeting, aldermen voted 7-1 in favor of a motion that gives the city manager authority to negotiate for acquisition of the property, whether as a purchase or through condemnation and eminent domain. Funds for the acquisition would come from the West Evanston tax-increment financing district, according to economic development coordinator Paul Zalmezak.
Ninth ward alderman Coleen Burrus, who cast the no vote, said she opposed the matter because the site is in need of environmental remediation. Four underground storage tanks remain on the property, necessitating at least $75,000 in removal, backfilling and soil remediation costs before the site could be developed. To build a structure other than a parking lot or park space, future developers would also need to construct a foundation, an additional cost of at least $13,000, according to Zalmezak.
“I’m a little concerned that this limits our redevelopment possibilities for that corner,” Burrus said during the administration and public works portion of the meeting, when the item was first discussed. “What developer, what owner would buy a site with known environmental hazards?”
Zalmezak said the city would combine the site with an adjacent property the city already owns, at 1708-10 Darrow Ave. to create a 16,000-square-foot lot.
“It limits the city’s liability against future owners’ environmental contamination claims,” he said.
In February, the lot at 1801-05 Church St. was appraised at $340,000, according to Zalmezak. However, property owner Daniel Cheifetz owes some $45,000 in back taxes, penalties and fees, and based on preliminary conversations with Cheifetz, the city believes it can acquire the property for $127,000, Zalmezak said. Cheifetz is known locally for his role as director of Enterprise Development Foundation, a nonprofit that owns the financially struggling Boocoo Cultural Center and Café, just down the street on Church.
Including environmental studies, remediation costs and purchase price, Zalmezak estimated that the total acquisition costs for 1801-05 Church St. would be about $217,000, well below the site’s appraised value.
“It’s kind of a rare opportunity to get a property that’s significantly below market,” Zalmezak said.
Eighth ward alderman Ann Rainey, who ultimately voted to approve the motion, said she didn’t believe the council had enough information to make the decision. Specifically, she wanted to know whether the company that had purchased Cheifetz’ back taxes was willing to work with the city, and wanted more surety that he would agree to a deal.
“It’s not like were dealing with somebody who’s been straightforward and easy to deal with,” she said.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this article contained incorrect information about the foundation. The city has since notified us that it's estimates about the foundation were incorrect, and we have updated the story.