Recap: Planning and Development Committee


Here’s a recap of our live coverage of tonight’s Evanston City Council Planning and Development Committee meeting.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 7:45 p.m. A packet with information on tonight’s agenda items is available online.

With the 16-story Albion Residential development on tonight’s agenda, the Council Chambers are full — with spectators and would-be speakers at public comment.

Meeting called to order

P 1 – Vacation rental license, 2120 Madison Place

Speaker objects to vacation rental proposal at 2120 Madison Place.

Expresses fear of crime etc.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, notes licenses are for one year — would have to be renewed.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, says she supports holding over the proposal.

Steven Starr, the property owner, says he’d be happy to discuss the proposal with neighbors before next committee meeting.

Committee votes to hold the item until Oct. 23 meeting.

P 2 – Nic’s Organic Fast Food

Joshua Huppard, neighbor says the existing Nic’s has peak business at noon and so does the Sarkis restaurant next door.

Alderman Tom Suffredin, 6th Ward, says lack of off-street parking is big issue — says they don’t have proof of permission from the owner of the lot.

Says thinks neighbors OK about it except for the lack of parkign.

Wilson suggests holding the proposal.

Vote is to hold the issue until the Oct. 23 meeting.

P 3 – Planned Development at 1450-1508 Sherman Avenue

Rich Kahan of Interfaith Action says wants to see ordinance require developments to provide affordable housing on site.

Steve Cohen says he expects chaos during construction

Jennifer Grandy, homeowner in 1500 block of Maple, says likes vibrant walkable downtown, says need people to sustain it, and more residential development will provide that.

Tammy Andrew, real estate broker, says she represented seller of the property, says there’s no viable way to rehabilitate the existing buildings.

Another speaker says she’s worried about extra cost for fire and police protection

Ed Carrella of Tommy Nevin’s and Pete Miller’s restauratns says have seen decline of traffic in the area — need development to increase business. 

(Numerous additional speakers.)

Barbara White says “slow this train down” and thoroughly analyze proposed developments.

Lee Katz, a 39-year-resident and business-owner, says he favors the project, says it will be far more diverse that some of the single family neighborhoods in town.

Marilyn Ruiz, 42 year resident, lives at Sherman and Davis, says she wants more development — so businesses can succeed.

Wendy Pollack, 1410 Oak, says she’s not opposed to density — but doesn’t like this project — says it’s out of scale, inhuman, really ugly.

Bob Strom, owner of Prairie Moon, says strongly favors the development.

Committee discussion

(Moved for discussion by Wilson and Rainey.)

Developer presentation

Andrew Yule of Albion says have reduced proposed height by 16 feet, now asking for 286 units.

Have moved parking entrance from Sherman Avenue to the alley — and will widen the alley.

A street-level rendering of the Albion development.

Unit mix is 33 percent studios averaging just under 500 square feet … plus 50 percent convertible and one bedroom units averaging 700 square feet .. .and the rest larger two and three bedroom units.

The development will provide a 2,700 square foot pocket park at the south end of the site.

Yule says in response to concerns from neighbors about getting affordable units immediately. Says each unit in the building cost about $330,000. Says the fee-in-lieu is about $2.9 million — that would translate to eight to nine affordable units on site.

Says now proposing to construct 15 affordable units on site — which will have a value of about $5 million.

Says wants to help start a conversation about the crisis of affordable and workforce housing.

Says will waive move-in fees for employees of the 10 largest employers in the city. Also will offer to maintain the public park on the south side of Lake Street at Sherman Avenue.

Says will not increase burden on Fire Department .. .and will reduce number of calls for police services. 

Presentation from opponents

Clare Kelly says have over 1800 people who’ve signed a petition against the project.

Says would undermine sense of community and negatively impact aesthetic appeal of downtown.

Says project would exacerbate segregation.

Seth Weinberger, former chair of Zoning Board of Appeals, says 2009 plan sought to preserve just four blocks — and this is one of them.

Asks how cheaply are we going to give up one of the last character-giving blocks in Evanston.

An architect, Greg Williams, claims the building design will condemn the retail spaces to failure.

Seth Freeman, former plan commission member, says the development doesn’t live up to the downtown plan.

Committee discussion

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, asks Sarah Flax of city staff to explain regarding fair housing ordinance issue. Says city has been involved with federal Community Housing Development Grant funds.

Flax says can’t tell developers what size units to provide. Says the developer has come back with a proposal to integrate affordable units into the development.

Flax says wouldn’t in any way violate fair housing laws.

Wilson says the Wall Street Journal article cited by opponents said one of the solutions was to build more units, relax zoning restrictions and build more micro units.

Says can’t see how this development would negatively impact our segregation problem — all the research he’s seen says the opposite.

Says it want to make things affordable, don’t want to have great big units that would be extremely expensive.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, says the lack of a ziggarat setback at the south end creates an unpleasant wall.

Says this is a really tough project because it’s on a site that’s very difficult.

Says concerned about businesses that can’t afford the price of new retail space.

Says thinks city has gone way too far in be accommodating to developers.

Rainey says have heard all sorts of misinformation about the development. Says to dismiss the 15 units of brand new affordable housing is terrible. Says if it happens it will be a historical event and we should embrace it.

Says the taste police are out. Says the character of Evanston used to be Marshall Fields, Rothchilds Wiebolt, the Varsity theater … a bunch of little restaurants. People thought we were going to die if any of those closed. Then along came Old Orchard and all those stores closed.

Along came the Research Park that turned out to be a miserable failure. Then we talked about the Hill development on Maple Avenue. Everybody was going to leave town because it would be gridlock. Was going to be a horrible mess.

Life will not come to an end and the character of downtown will not change for the worse if we build a building you don’t like, Rainey says

Says the good outweighs the bad on this project. It will provide housing for lots of people who will take their money and shop at all the little shops.

Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, says she’s less than enthusiastic about the design of the project — but says the 15 units of affordable housing meets the goal. Also hard to dismiss the economic activity that would support the business community downtown.

Says would like to look at reworking public benefit. Says there’s already a Divvy station not too far away. Challenges developer to meet MWEBE goals and local hiring goals. Would like to see preference for Evanston residents in the affordable units.

Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, asks about local residents for affordable units.

Sarah Flax says there would be a local preference — that the city has contracted to have such a list maintained.

Revelle says having affordable units in the building is really important. Says have never quite defined what mean by public benefits. Says she likes the partnership wtih ETHS to provide training in the buildig trades.

Says she’s not troubled by the number of parking spaces — thinks it reflects current vehicle ownershp patterns.

But is troubled by the scale and mass of the project in that location, which should be a transition to the lower density buildings to the south. Also concerned about the ziggerat setback issue. Would like to have the developers address those concerns and make the project more appealing.

Wilson says he doesn’t live in Evanston because of the buildings –but the character of the people.

Says he’s talked to a lot of people about the issues he has with the plan. Says that plan would allow developers to take down existing awesome building that he loves in the city — in core downtown could build 20 to 25 story buildings as of right.

Says this currently isn’t the most attractive block.

Says if there’s more housing supply, that will help stabilize the increases in rents.

Wynne says there are some positive aspects of the proposal — like the affordable housing. Says she’s troubled by the mix — says there’s demand for family housing — would like to see a different mix.

Says the development starts at the land price. Depending on what the council does, a marketplace will be established for land in Evanston. Says the mass and density is too large for the site. Think’s southern end shouldn’t be as tall as it is. 

Says the block needs to be developed — but not convinced this is the right development.

Says there’s a lot of false information being spread by the opponents. It’s not true that the city has been focused on developing “luxury micro-units.”

Says rumors in community that groups are receiving money from the developer is simply not true.

Says happy to get answers about occupancy rates and size of units. But stick to the facts.

Wynne moves to hold in committee. Rainey says rest of council needs an opportunity to discuss the proposal.

Fiske second’s Wynne’s motion to hold … which is all that’s required to hold the proposal in committee until Monday, Oct. 23

Meeting adjourned at 10:24 p.m.

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