The fate of two major downtown development projects may hinge on whether Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, is willing to vote for both.

At an unusually heated meeting of the city’s Economic Development Committee Wednesday night, a clash became evident between Fiske, who favors plans for an office building on the city-owned library parking lot, and Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, who supports plans for a rental apartment development at 831 Emerson St.

At Monday’s City Council meeting, Rainey, who is generally pro-development, had joined the prevailing side on a 6-2 vote to kill — at least temporarily — the library lot project.

Wednesday, when Fiske tried to seek support for the project from the Economic Development Committee, Rainey made clear that Fiske’s decision a week earlier to vote against the 831 Emerson development in a preliminary 5-3 vote on that proposal was the reason why.

Ann Rainey.

“This is a fabulous project that people have worked very hard on” for six months, Rainey said of the library lot development at 1714-1720 Chicago Ave.

“But there’s another project that’s been in the works for over two years,” she said.

The owner of that property, at 831 Emerson, Rainey said, is part of a family that has owned the business there for maybe 60 years, hired minorities, almost exclusively, and put the children of many of those employees through college.

“These people now are almost broke because of the time and effort spent trying to appease the neighbors,” Rainey said. “And the neighbors now, with the exception of three or four people, are pretty much on board with the project.”

“And yet you,” Rainey said, addressing Fiske, “almost ruined their lives that night” by voting against the nine-story apartment project.

Developer Bruce Larson of the team behind the library lot proposal.

Caught in the middle are the developers of the two projects.

Bruce Larson from the development team behind the library lot project told the Economic Development Committee his proposal would produce $1.5 million a year in property taxes for the city on a site that now yields no tax revenue.

And the projected 544 new workers in the office building, he said, would generate $4.3 million a year in new spending in the local economy.

Tim Anderson, the would-be developer of the 831 Emerson site, on Monday sought and received from the City Council a postponement of a final vote on his project.

With the arrival of three new aldermen on the Council next month, the prospects for both developments remain murky.

831 Emerson requires a two-thirds vote of the aldermen for approval because of development allowances requested for the project. The library lot project, because it involves the sale of city property, will need a two-thirds vote.

Under City Council rules, any alderman who voted on the prevailing side in Monday’s vote to deny the city manager authorization to negotiate a sales contract for the library lot property can move to reconsider that vote.

Related stories about 1714 Chicago Ave. and 831 Emerson St.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to indicate the two-thirds vote required to approve the 831 Emerson project.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Rainey on side of developers, not citizens

    The current plan for the Emerson building has a 0′ setback, with a 109′ sheer wall going up from the sidewalk. Meanwhile, because the streets were widened, this is an extra small sidewalk where two people can hardly pass as it is. Ald Melissa Wynn at the last meeting implored is not to make the same mistake that was made at Main and Chicago with the 0′ setback as it’s causing a lot of problems. The units in this building are 40 percent smaller than the Chicago/Main building new construction and small than apartments in Chicago–and we are a suburb!. Studios are only 333 sf, while the average for studios in Chicago are 500 some. It is way too dense! Emerson is a thoroughfare for lots of people in northeast Evanston and traffic is very bad already at 4 pm every day, who th E2 and the new buildings on Ridge. As far as their original development that Rainey feels so sorry for them about. They were trying to rent out room by room–basically a private dorm without admitting to it! Of course this isn’t going to be accepted by the neighbors. This owner is a very wealthy man and I don’t think we have to worry about going bankrupt. As a city council person, how about caring about RESIDENTS more than developers who are having their way with this town under your watch. Our charming downtown has been taken over by impersonal high rises and empty retail spaces designed for chains that leave. This  is a horrible plan that is NOT ok with the neighbors. 

    Here’s an idea, let’s put the $1.6 million theater there (that you are giving to a 40 person theater group with no chance of pulling its weight) and YOU can take this building with 0′ setback and unprecedented density that will jam up your main road. Evanston residents should be your concern, Ann, NOTdevwlipers.



    1. A disaster in the making

      Could not agree more with this assessment of project. That proposed project is a disaster in the making…ESP as it stands with literally no setback. And Emerson after 3:00-3:30 is wall to wall traffic. And, how about the already maddening traffic lights at Emerson and Maple area? I love how Ald. Rainey continues to bully her way into getting what she wants…including outside of her Ward. Enough with this incessant cookie cutter development happening all over downtown Evanston, and now, with this project, creeping into a residential area, already burdened by overcrowding and development.

    2. Can you make the City Council

      Can you make the City Council meeting tonight, June 12, 2017, at which the project will be voted on? Could you write to your alderman expressing your opposition today?

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