In 2006, Moshe Davis thought he found the right site to expand the Orthodox Jewish elementary school he ran in Chicago. An abandoned building that formerly housed an audio electronics company in Evanston seemed like the perfect new home.
He bought the building knowing the property was zoned for industrial use, but assumed the community would change that. It didn’t. Four years later, a lawsuit the school filed against Evanston is ongoing.
At the heart of the conflict is a dilemma that municipalities all across the Midwest have confronted throughout the recession: Do communities jump at the first chance – any chance – to fill vacant buildings or do they wait for the return of a tax-yielding business?
In Evanston, the answer is clear. The city’s attorney tells our partner station WBEZ the city must “consider the tax ramifications for land-use applications.” And while some neighbors concerned about property values want to see an empty building filled, others in the town prefer to hold out hope that manufacturing will someday return.
“Just because it’s vacant doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the potential to become a viable commercial property at some point,” says Michelle Hays, a resident who lives 1.5 moles away from the property.
Five years later, Davis wonders how long he must wait.
He has searched for a buyer. But he purchased the building just before the real-estate crash. He has sunk millions into the building and maintenance, tens of thousands on property taxes. And his students still attend classes in their overcrowded Chicago facility.