Evanston aldermen last night asked Mather Lifeways to revise its retirement home construction plans to provide more setback from Davis Street.

Several aldermen indicated they’d be willing to trade some increase in building height for structures that covered a smaller portion of the lots.

The aldermen, meeting as the Planning and Development Committee, voted to introduce the Mather project for City Council consideration, but refer it back to the committee for additional review at its Feb. 13 meeting.

Mather wants to replace its Georgian and Mather Gardens buildings at the intersection of Davis Street and Hinman Avenue with two new 10-story structures with a total of 309 living units.

The city’s development consultant, Martin Stern of U.S. Equities, told the committee that after reviewing financial data offered by Mather, he is convinced that the project could not be financed if the number of units was reduced enough to be able to slice a floor from the proposed height of the buildings.

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, suggested increasing the setback of both new buildings from Davis Street by reducing their separation from neighboring buildings to the north and south. “I believe we need more setback to avoid creating a canyon effect,” Ald. Jean-Baptiste said.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 2nd Ward, said the setbacks from the neighboring buildings, the Waterford and the Homestead, were the result of a lot of negotiations with the neighbors. “I don’t feel comfortable changing that,” Ald. Rainey said, but she said she couldn’t support the project unless the lot coverage is reduced.

Alderman Steven Bernstein, 4th Ward, said he shared the concerns. “I’ve always argued in favor of height rather than breadth” of new buildings, he said.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said she would like to support the project, but that she has serous concerns about the bulk and setbacks. “We don’t have any place in the city where we have two 10-story buildings this close to the sidewalk,” she said.

Mather’s architect distributed rough sketches showing concepts for slight lot coverage reductions and said he could also trim coverage further by adding a partial 11th floor to the north building.

Ald. Rainey also sought assurances from Mather that the public would have some access to the private gardens the Mather owns to the east of each building and that Evanston residents would get priority access to subsidies the Mather plans to offer some of its residents.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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