Evanston aldermen approve nine-story apartment building near downtown

This rendering shows the proposed nine-story apartment building at 831 Emerson Street in Evanston. Plans were approved by city council on June 12, 2017. (City of Evanston)

By: Genevieve Bookwalter, Pioneer Press

Evanston city leaders on Monday approved plans for a nine-story apartment building development at 831 Emerson Street near downtown.

The residential building, with its planned 242 units, would sit on approximately one acre and include 174 parking spots, according to a memo to aldermen from Johanna Leonard, head of the Community Development Department, Planning and Zoning Administrator Scott Mangum and Meagan Jones, neighborhood and land use planner.

The memo included other details about the planned development.

Chicago Transit Authority train tracks run along the west side of the property and a 16-foot alley along the east. The first floor would include 3,300 square feet of commercial space, according to building plans.

A 7-Eleven convenience store now on the property is expected to occupy that storefront, plans indicate.

One of the biggest boons of the project, however, is the $2.4 million that developers Focus Development Inc. and CA-Ventures plan to contribute to city coffers for Evanston’s affordable housing needs, aldermen said.

The city does not have specific plans yet for how to spend the money.

“If you don’t call this a public benefit you’re plain crazy,” said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward. “We have never had $2.4 million in affordable housing. This is cash.”

Evanston aldermen approved a 9-story apartment building at the June 12, 2017 City Council meeting that would replace this two-story structure, pictured May 8, at 831 Emerson Street. (Genevieve Bookwalter / Pioneer Press)

It was approved on a 7-2 vote, with 1st Ward Aldermen Judy Fiske and Tom Suffredin, 6th Ward, voting against.

“In my ward there have been a lot of objections,” said Fiske, who asked if “it will set a really difficult precedent” for the City Council to reject future developers wanting to build tall buildings near downtown.

The building would include 71 studios, 40 one-bedroom, 93 two-bedroom and 38 three-bedroom units, project plans show.

The new development is planned be built in a U-shape, opening onto Emerson Street with amenities and a walkway in the center, according to building plans. Also, developers plan an 11-foot wide public sidewalk, four street trees and nine new bike racks along Emerson Street.

The development will replace an “underutilized two-story commercial building” and a 57-space open parking lot, according to staff reports.

Aldermen approval came after the developer returned with changes proposed at the April 17 Planning and Development Committee meeting and at the April 24 City Council meeting. Those modifications included a 3- to 6-foot setback where none was originally planned. Aldermen also asked staff to research the current rental market to ensure the development was in line with current trends.

Because developers asked for 10 code exemptions, or “site development allowances,” the proposal needed a two-thirds vote of the City Council to pass, according to city rules. The requested exemptions included building height that exceeded city code for that parcel, a reduced number of parking spaces, no landscape buffering and a greater number of units allowed on that lot size than what typically is allowed.

The proposal also required a rezoning from commercial and general residential to commercial mixed use with a special use for the convenience store.

The property sits on a block between downtown office buildings and neighborhood homes, Fiske said, and “we want buildings that will transition down to a liveable height.”

But others felt like the property’s unique features — nestled up against the train tracks and tucked into something of “a little pocket,” said Ald. Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward — would prohibit future developers from justifying their need for the same variances elsewhere.

“I don’t see it necessarily creating a big precedent,” Revelle said.

The Evanston City Council decision comes more than a year after members rejected a previous proposal for the one-acre property that included 12 stories and 267 units, largely marketed toward students, according to Evanston Review reports.

That project was rejected in 2016 after neighbors and others complained that the building was too big and would attract hundreds of students to what now is a relatively quiet neighborhood, among other concerns.

Read the original article in the Chicago Tribune.

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