Wilmette votes down permit for show house on Washington Ave

Wilmette Village Board unanimously voted against a special use permit for showcase events to be hosted at a Washington Avenue house saying the permit wasn’t clear enough and is too far reaching.

Emily Mackie, who doesn’t live in the home, runs the all-woman firm Inspired Luxury Homes and said she has several magazines scheduled to highlight her firm’s work during Women’s History Month. She requested a special use permit to hold events at the house at 1760 Washington Avenue from April 12 through April 30 to conduct the viewings and further house showings.

In a presentation to the board, Mackie said the permit could be simplified to just cover the two magazine tours.

“It would give me the opportunity to showcase the special features inside the home,” she said. “You can’t just look at the features and assume what they are. It does require a lot of explanation and there’s some things that are interactive like voice activated valve systems or products that have recycled content.”

Several residents from Washington Avenue spoke out against the luxury show home during the meeting saying they are concerned the about parking,foot traffic and the potential of setting a precedent for commercial activity in residential zones.

Neighbor Alexa Colin told officials that attempts to compromise haven’t been possible.

“This isn’t teaching children how to share a toy and it’s not talking to our neighbor about the size of their shed,” Colin said. “Here we have somebody who is trying to operate a business on our block who has not invested in keeping the community spirit alive in our neighborhood.”

Mackie told the board she plans to place the home on the market this week.

Another neighbor Jody Boquist said the events Mackie hopes to host are outside the typical house showings and will cause disruptions.

“This is plainly commercial activity,” she said.

Wilmette resident Steven Fisher is in favor of the project, saying it highlights the best of local Wilmette talent.

“This is the kind of example that I want to set for my daughter. That women can build houses and women can do this and women can do that,” he said. “You’re looking at something that is really going to bring a lot of local business to this community and so that people can recognize the local people in this community.”

Another proponent for the show home, J.D. Sun, said the police department is steps from the home.

Village Trustees broadly commended the all-female team that brought the home to life but said the venture just didn’t make sense in the residential area.

“I think it’s terrific that you did this but that’s not what the temporary use is about to me,” Trustee Kate Gjaja said.

Trustees Kathy Dodd and Justin Shepard said they would both be comfortable with amended applications just covering the magazine events but ultimately the entire board voted against the original application.

Dodd said she was concerned by the number of residents that seemed opposed to nonresidents coming into the village. In response to Trustee Peter Barrow’s comment that Mackie’s plan is not neighborly, Dodd said she defines neighborly differently.

“Yes you want to be careful about negative impact but people have parties, people allow bands to play, people have weddings there,” she said. “We started our night with a speaker from the Human Relations Commission talking about wanting our community to be welcoming. I heard a number of residents talk about the fact that they are uncomfortable having people they don’t know or recognize entering homes and I’m disappointed to hear that.”

Trustee David Sullivan echoed Dodd’s concerns saying, “that’s not who we are as a community.”

“The idea that our neighborhoods are only for the people who live in the houses in that neighborhood is offensive,” Trustee Gina Kennedy said. “We are a welcoming community and we do want everybody in the village to feel perfectly comfortable walking down any street in the village anytime they want to with or without a reason.”

Dodd compared Mackie’s planned events to garden and home walks with ticket sales that regularly take place in the village and questioned why this feels any different.

“What I heard from the other board members is the reason why you’re not supporting this is because of the negative impact on the residents and I’m struggling with that,” she said.

Village President Senta Plunkett suggested that Mackie look into virtual options for showing the home and celebrating its completion.