Evanston prevails over new Jewish boys’ school

Battle mixed claims of discrimination with winnowing tax base.

May 3, 2013

WBEZ/Odette Yousef
The Joan Dachs Bais Yaakov Elementary School purchased a former electronics factory and warehouse in Evanston in late 2006, but lost a bid to turn it into a new school.

An Orthodox Jewish school has lost a legal battle with the City of Evanston in its bid to open a new learning facility there. In 2006, the Joan Dachs Bais Yaakov Elementary School purchased the former Shure Brothers electronics company building along Evanston’s southwest border. They hoped to renovate the property into a new facility for early child education and for its growing boys’ school, which is currently located in Chicago’s West Ridge neighborhood on the far North Side.

In a ruling this week, Cook County Judge Mary Anne Mason sided with the City of Evanston, which denied the school permission to use the land for anything other than industrial purposes.

“They made a business decision to go ahead and purchase the property, knowing that they still had a number of steps to go through afterwards to secure city approval,” said Grant Farrar, Corporation Counsel for the City of Evanston. “The City of Evanston was concerned about removing this property from the tax rolls.”

Forty percent of Evanston’s land is tax-exempt, owned by religious institutions, universities, and nonprofits. Some Evanston aldermen expressed concern that reclassifying the zoning for the school’s property from light industrial to commercial, which would allow for use as a school, would permanently chip away at an already-diminishing property tax base. Evanston’s industrial sector has thinned during the last several decades.

The board purchased the property for $2 million with knowledge that they would have to secure a change or exception to the zoning rule. They did not include a contingency clause in their purchase that would nullify the purchase if they failed to obtain the zoning -- a precaution that is common in similar cases. Still, representatives of the Joan Dachs Bais Yaakov Elementary School say they intend to fight further by appealing the ruling.

“We continue to believe that that is an ideal property,” said Moshe Davis, president of the school’s board. “We’re looking at all options because we have to make sure that our children are taken care of.”

Odette Yousef is the reporter for WBEZ's North Side Bureau. Follow her @oyousef.