The pastor of First United Methodist Church was among speakers at a Thursday night online meeting who opposed a planned high-rise development that would add 18 affordable housing units downtown.

Grace Imathiu.

Senior Pastor Grace Imathiu said the 18-story building at 1621 Chicago Ave. would overwhelm the church, which faces Hinman Avenue, across an alley from the building site.

“Our sacred space would be violated by that large building,” Imathiu said.

Fred Tanenbaum, with a photo from his 19th floor Sherman Plaza condo window as his Zoom video background.

Sherman Plaza condo owner Fred Tanenbaum said the new building “is going to be quite large compared to other buildings around it” and that limited parking proposed would “make it inconvenient for the rest of the residents of Evanston.”

Bob Froetscher.

Bob Froetscher said that before he bought his condo on the ninth floor of Optima Towers he checked the zoning for the planned building site and saw that it called for buildings no more than six to 10 stories tall.

The D4-Downtown district has a base zoning height of 105 feet for residential buildings, but up to 40 feet of parking floors are excluded from the building height calculation.

In addition, the zoning code provides bonuses for inclusion of on-site affordable housing units that mean the proposed 195-foot tall building could be approved by a simple majority vote of the City Council, rather than the super-majority vote that would otherwise be required.

Jeff Michael.

Developer Jeff Michael of Horizon Realty Group said the 180-unit project will provide 13 on-site affordable housing units as required by the city’s inclusionary housing ordinance, and an additional five affordable units as a public benefit for the project.

A street-level view of the proposed building, showing the more than 7,000 square feet of planned ground-level retail space.

Plans for the building call for 24 studio apartments, 91 one-bedroom units and 52 two-bedroom units. The mix of affordable units would be proportionate to the overall unit mix in the building.

While Darlene Cannon argued that the city needs larger, family-sized units, Sue Loellbach of Connections for the Homeless said twice as many households in Evanston have only one or two people as have more than two, so twice as many households need one- or two-bedroom apartments.

“We need affordable housing for households of every size,” Loellbach added.

A rendering showing the planned building looking northeast along Chicago Avenue, with Horizon’s The Merion retirement community building on the right.

Imathiu and some other neighbors also argued the project would increase congestion in the alley behind the site.

In a Friday morning interview with Evanston Now, Michael said whether the building was 13 or 18 stories tall it would have the same impact on the alley and the inclusion of loading docks in the new building should actually reduce congestion.

He noted that Horizon had previously proposed having the garage entrance off Chicago Avenue, but that idea was strongly opposed by city staff because it would require that drivers cross the recently constructed protected bike lane on the street.

The plans call for 57 on-site parking spaces in a garage on the second and third floors of the building.

Jonathan Perman, a consultant for the developer, said Friday morning that if the demand presents itself for more parking, the developer would be happy to lease enough spaces in the city’s Church Street garage to meet the need.

Perman said the garage is now running at 50% capacity and that leasing spaces would be a win-win, providing more parking revenue to the city to help maintain the garage.

Michael said that years ago he would have never thought less than a one-to-one ratio of parking spaces to apartment units would work. “But the world has changed,” he added, “and we’re not using vehicles the way we used to.”

The project still needs to go through the city’s formal approval process, starting with a meeting with the Design and Project Review Committee. Those sessions haven’t yet been scheduled.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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3 Comments

  1. I agree with the comment that minimal on-site parking places is a big inconvenience to the tenants and especially people who may frequent downtown businesses, but already complain about the limited parking. We also have an aging population with limited access to public transportation alternatives due to snowbanks, steep ramps, lots of stairs, infrequent service, jerky bus drivers and the possibility that the main library parking lot may also be converted to a building.

  2. Ridiculous… less and less natural light coming into buildings especially if you live on the lower floors and less and less green space in the downtown area. The city not only destroyed the value of the all the units but also the light @1567 Ridge and took away potential green space on that building’s south side. What is the goal here? Rentals upon rentals? I have clients leaving Evanston because the options are non-existant. Not every person wants to rent for the rest of their lives nor try to live in 900+ sq ft. We also need to look at what we offer visitors in our downtown area. Right now it’s several walk-in clinics because the rents are so high unique shops are chased away. We couldn’t even keep Panera or Gap. We do have some awesome coffee shops though.

  3. Congestion! How much more can we squeeze into Evanston? The traffic around here is horrible, parking is not friendly and now expensive. Maybe if Evanston would focus on getting its business/retail section back, Evanston could make up it’s tax revenue that way. We don’t need anymore apartments, expensive condo’s or any high-rises. Evanston is missing the boat by not focusing on its business/retail development! Get some competent people on board that thinks out of the box. Visit other towns/communities and see what works for them. This is not how to do it.

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