The now-rejected Merion Legacy development is seen at the center of this rendering.

Evanston’s Planning and Development Committee voted unanimously Monday night to reject a planned 17-story senior living high-rise at 1621 Chicago Ave.

The vote means the project will not advance to the full City Council for consideration.

The project was universally panned in public comments before the vote, with neighbors complaining it was too tall for what’s designated as a transitional district between downtown and the residential neighborhood east of the alley behind the site.

A last-minute proposal from the developer to provide a $100,000 contribution to the city’s reparations fund as part of the public benefit package for the project also came under fire, with some residents suggesting it was an improper effort to sway aldermanic votes.

When the Reparations Subcommittee chair, Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, suggested that new developments should provide public benefits that help the entire city — rather than just the immediate neighborhood around the site, city staff suggested there were legal restraints on the city’s ability to do that.

Deputy City Attorney Nicholas Cummings said there needs to be a connection between the benefit provided and the development’s impact on the city and that it didn’t appear there was “a sufficient nexus” to the reparations program.

This represents the fourth major downtown development that aldermen have rejected in the past few years.

In March 2019 the full City Council failed to achieve the supermajority vote needed to approve an 11-story office building proposed for a city-owned parking lot at 1714-1720 Chicago Ave.

In January 2018 the Planning and Development Committee voted 6-1 to reject a proposed 33-story apartment tower at 601 Davis St. A 19-story office tower was approved for the site by City Council last April, but construction has not yet begun on that project.

And in February 2016 the City Council rejected plans for a 12-story student housing development at 831 Emerson St. A revamped nine-story version of that project ultimately was approved and constructed.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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