Land Use Commission delays decision on music studio

The owner of an Evanston music studio is weighing his options after the city’s Land Use Commission filed a ruling on a waiver he said he needed to keep his studio open.

The delay, issued at the commission’s Jan. 12 meeting, came after the design and project review board recommended against deviating.

Jim Tullio, owner of Butcher Boy School of Music Production, 1224 Washington St., wants the city to issue a waiver allowing him to subdivide and sell a resulting adjacent lot. The issue will then be heard at the February 23 meeting of the Land Use Commission. Fourteen people spoke on behalf of the school on January 12.

When Tullio’s music production business dwindled thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, he brought her through a major pivot. His studio became a non-profit organization helping high school musicians learn the facets of music production and make their own recordings. Working with two socially distant students at a time, Tullio has so far compiled around 64 tracks with the students.

Jim Tullio (left) works with ETHS student Alejandro Quiles at the Butcher Boy studio. (Image from Butcher Boy’s YouTube video.)

“That’s the equivalent of maybe six albums,” Tullio, who has won two Grammys and more than 100 Clio Awards, told the Evanston RoundTable. “Imagine a pop band trying to do that – six albums in two years. It just doesn’t happen.

An increase in the studio’s mortgage payments made the prospect of staying put untenable without the subdivision, Tullio said. But the parcel he wants to sell would be less than the minimum 5,000 square foot area required for land in the R-3 residential zone.

“I know people blame everything on COVID, but in this case it’s my mortgage increase that’s the problem,” Tullio said.

The Project Design and Review Committee primarily objected to the 4,226 square foot size of the proposed lot created by the variance. Tullio said he was surprised by the rejection, adding, “There are hundreds of lots under 5,000 square feet in Evanston. It’s not like this one would be a “sore thumb”.

He had considered making new land created for the building 4,226 square feet and land for sale 5,000 square feet, but said he was told the plan would have required four deviations rather than the one required for his plan current. He credited city planner Katie Ashbaugh for helping him navigate the city’s approvals process at various times.

The building itself – a former butcher’s shop, hence the school’s name – is filled with historical significance. Tullio, who moved there in 2006, said he was told the back of the building featured a barn which was Evanston’s oldest building. He has taken up residence on the top floor and is looking forward to seeing his program continue.

“It’s the only program [for high school students] of gender in the country,” Tullio said. “…These kids are amazing.”

He will spend the coming weeks trying to find a solution, he added. “I am open to any project.