Evanston City Council tables purchase of Howard Street laundromat

A laundromat at 739 Howard Street, Evanston, could soon be the site of a new affordable housing building if Evanston City Council moves forward with a proposed purchase.

The issue was tabled at the May 13 Evanston City Council meeting after concerns arose about the spread of pollution underneath the site. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has come back to the city several times asking for additional testing, according to Paul Zalmezak, the city’s economic development manager.

The city currently owns the building beside Clothes Pin Laundromat, owned by Jung Ho Yun and Soon Yun, and has hopes to combine the two properties and construct an affordable housing property on the site. Tax Increment Finance funding is set to pay for the property.

Environmental Consultant Group Project Manager Robert Johnson explained to the council the IEPA has tentatively approved the city plans and has all documentation required, beyond the additional testing requests, to issue a letter authorizing the site is safe for housing. Johnson expects a response from the IEPA as to what further steps are needed in two to three weeks.

“We have the idea of what the impacts are concerning the former dry cleaner; we know how we are going to address those impacts,” Johnson said. “We wouldn’t do any active remediation on the property.”

He explained the IEPA will either require the area of impact be covered by the building foundation, an asphalt parking lot or require a vapor recovery system be placed in the new building. Tentative plans call for a five-story residential building with possible first floor commercial space. Zalmezak hopes to break ground next summer.

The pollution is coming from 729 Howard Street, a property already owned by the city, and IEPA is requiring that testing be done further into the street to map the contamination and define the area of impact. The next round of testing results are expected to be completed in the coming days.

Councilmember Clare Kelly stated she would be much more comfortable voting on the purchase once the approval letter is in hand. A lawyer for the laundromat owners has asked the city to come to a final decision after a year-plus of back and forth on the purchase, but Yun stated she would be fine waiting a few more weeks.

“I feel like we really do need a clean report from the IEPA and if we didn’t have it, I would want to make sure that we’re really insulated against any sort of cost,” Kelly said. “I don’t think most commercial property owners would move forward without an NFR (no further remediation) from the IEPA.”

Zalmezak stated there is already a no further remediation letter on the property for commercial use but further steps are required for residential buildings.

The city is also purchasing the business as a whole, meaning it is the city’s responsibility to sell off all the laundry equipment after purchase of the property.

“I don’t want to be in a position where I’m suddenly selling laundry equipment, so we have to figure that out,” Zalmezak said. “But in order for us to achieve a site that we can develop affordable housing on, we had to essentially buy the business.”

The final vote on the purchase will be considered at the May 28 meeting.