City considers buying failed development site

Evanston aldermen tonight are scheduled to vote on buying and demolishing two bank-owned properties that were once part of the site for the rejected Darrow Corners low income housing development.

The two two-flat buildings at 1708 and 1710 Darrow Ave. were acquired by the Housing Opportunity Development Corporation in 2005 for a total of $600,000 with mortgages totalling $480,000 held by First Bank & Trust of Evanston.

HODC planned to combine those two parcels with the vacant lot on the northwest corner of Darrow and Church Street that once held a gas station and build 27 units of low income housing on the roughly 16,000 square foot site.

While some neighborhood residents supported the project, others — including owners of adjacent commercial property and owners of small rental buildings in the area — opposed it.

The City Council ultimately rejected the plan on a 5-4 vote in May 2006.

In the years since, the two buildings have been boarded up, but repeatedly broken into and damaged by squatters.

HODC failed to make mortgage payments. First Bank & Trust filed a foreclosure suit in March 2009 and acquired title to the properties last month.

Community and Economic Development Director Lehman Walker says the bank has produced appraisals estimating the value of the two properties at $120,000 each and has agreed to sell each to the city at a $10,000 discount, for a total of $220,000.

Walker says the staff proposes using West Evanston tax increment financing district funds to pay for the purchase, in hopes of later finding a developer to create a mixed-income, mixed-use project on the site.

Update 10:30 a.m. 6/15/10: Aldermen Monday night voted unanimously to approve the purchase, although Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said she was concerned about taking property off the tax roles and the anticipated long delay in redeveloping the site. More details here.

(Image courtesy Google Street View.)

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