Aldermen reject affordable housing plan

Evanston aldermen voted 5-4 tonight to reject the Darrow Corners affordable housing development.

The project proposed by the Housing Opportunity Development Corporation would have built 27 units of rent-to-own housing on the site at the northwest corner of Church Street and Darrow Avenue.

Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, and other opponents of the proposal said it didn’t match the goals set for the area in a recently adopted neighborhood plan.

But Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, said, “This has nothing to do with plans, this is about poor people.”

He compared the complaints of opponents to a law suit that argued that poor people constitute an environmental hazard.

“We say we support affordable housing,” Ald. Jean-Baptiste said, “but when have you guys done anything for Church and Dodge. Nothing’s ever been done there.”

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said, “Home ownership – to me that’s the weakest piece of this whole project.” Fifteen years is too long to wait; the chance for ownership is too speculative, she said.

“I don’t believe this is the right project. I don’t believe the community should jump at the very first financing scheme that comes along to build something on this corner, Ald. Rainey said.

Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, supported the plan, saying it offered hope after many years of waiting for new development on the west side.

“I reject the notion of some opponents that renters cannot be stakeholders in the community,” Ald. Moran said.

“This lot has been empty for at least 30 years,” he said, “People say they are not satisfied with this proposal. But should we continue to look at this empty, contaminated lot?”

Ald. Moran said the developers had compromised with neighbors and come up with good alterations that make sense, but also stood their ground where they had to because of financing requirements.

The project previously had been rejected by the Evanston Plan Commission and was the subject of several meetings by a Planning and Development subcommittee in an effort to work out a compromise between the developer and neighborhood opponents of the project.

Carlis Sutton, head of the neighborhood group opposing the project, told aldermen the neighbors wanted to have at least one third of the units available for ownership immediately, sufficient on-site parking to meet zoning code standards, a height reduction from four to three stories and more ground level commercial space.

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