Evanston’s Plan Commission will get its first look at a proposal for a 33-story residential tower at 601 Davis St. tonight.

The Vermilion Development project would replace a vacant lot and a large bank drive-through with 318 rental apartments, a garage for 176 cars and 7,481 square feet of ground floor commercial space, including a smaller bank drive-through.

The same scene with the existing vacant lot and bank drive-through. (Google Maps image.)

In an interview with Evanston Now, Vermilion President Dave Cocagne said the project would also preserve and enhance the landmark two-story University Building on the corner of Davis and Chicago Avenue “to make it viable for the next 100 years.”

The proposal has won support from the city’s Preservation Commission, but received a negative recommendation from the Design and Project Review Committee, largely because it doesn’t completely eliminate the bank drive-through, which city staff members argue is not appropriate in the downtown area and is hazardous to cyclists using the Davis Street bike lane.

The proposed ground floor layout, showing the drive-through with one entrance lane off Davis and two exit lanes into an alley. The existing drive-through has one entrance lane from Davis and six exit lanes all going directly onto Davis Street. 

But Cocagne says maintaining a drive-through was a condition set by the bank in agreeing to sell the property for the new development.

The development team has proposed an unconventional response to the city’s desire to encourage more affordable housing.

Under the inclusionary housing ordinance it could meet that goal by contributing $3.2 million to the city’s affordable housing fund.

But Cocagne has proposed instead that the project provide four on-site subsidized units and contribute $1.5 million to a local non-profit that would provide short-term assistance to up to 80 families per year for five years to prevent homelessness.

He says that would provide help sooner and aid far more people than the approach called for in the city ordinance.

A city staff analysis, in consultation with Wintrust Bank, concluded that providing the full $3.2 million fee-in-lieu contribution or providing 32 units on site, as preferred by some affordable housing advocates, would make the project financially unfeasible, but that either the developer’s plan or providing 10 on-site units would come close to hitting the financial feasibility target of a 6 percent untrended yield on cost.

The developers are seeking a total of eight site development allowances. Two of the requested allowances — for a height totalling 353 feet and a floor area ratio of 12.25 — are so large that they trigger a rule that will require a two-thirds majority vote of the City Council to approve the project.

Cocagne says the development will generate about $1.7 million in one-time building permit fees for the city as well as annual property tax payments of $1.5 million and $400,000 in expected annual sales tax revenue.

The limited number of parking spaces provided and the height of the building are expected to be among the criticisms of the project the Plan Commission will hear from residents at the hearing, which begins at 7 p.m. in the City Council Chamber at the Civic Center.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. 601 Davis Proposed Development
    Another unnecessary gargantuan project that defies all of the zoning requirements of the City. When is Evanston finally going to say enough. Our streets are becoming more crowded and the quality of life in the Evanston I have known for over 30 years is being eroded by this and other developments. If we have a zoning code, it needs to be honored-not in the breach but by its very definitive terms. No developer should be allowed to ignore these standards and throw a massive project at the City without regard for those standards to see if it “sticks”. We need to deliver a message to developers that our zoning code means something.

    1. Why? The zoning code is not

      Why? The zoning code is not the word of God. In most American municipalities, land is wholesale downzoned to give city officials bargaining power over developers and incumbent landlords pricing power over tenants. It’s a political tool, not some perfect development plan written to never be challenged. This particular development will bring more units to an area with access to transit and skyrocketing rents. The only way to keep Evanston affordable for middle income residents, not just the lucky affordable housing voucher lottery winners, is to increase the supply of rentable units. Econ 101.

    1. Big buildings….maybe big
      Big buildings….maybe big taxes. What did you expect from a city council and mayors who ignored funding, businesses leaving (ah Marshall Fields, Baskins, Washington National) for the last few decades.

      This is the result of the “best” leaders Evanston can find. Makes you proud!

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