After several hours of public comment and debate Evanston aldermen voted 5-4 against giving the developer of the 708 Church St. tower even one extra year to begin construction.
Initially, developer Tim Anderson had requested a three-year extension for the planned project, which was approved by the council in a 6-3 vote in March of 2009.
But during discussion, Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, suggested trimming it to a one-year extension instead, saying she believed the developer should “be in a position to describe to us the planned project” in a year’s time.
When the it was first approved in 2009, Anderson, president and owner of Focus Development, Inc., was given five years to begin construction on the planned 35-story tower, instead of the usual three, because the real estate market was in a slump.
The proposed tower was controversial when it was debated five years ago and time has not changed that.
Nearly 20 residents, many of whom live in the Sherman Plaza tower at 807 Davis St. and whose skyline views might be impaired by the new building, spoke at both the council’s Planning and Development Committee meeting and subsequent full City Council meeting urging alderman to vote against the extension. No one spoke in favor of it.
Though aldermen repeatedly reminded commenters that the issue at hand wasn’t approval of the development itself, but approval of a time extension, residents continued to criticize plans for the tower — from its height to its impact on downtown views to the effects of construction on local businesses in the area.
Tower opponent Martin Kantor.
“To put a building that is that massive on that site and that density for that site is a mistake,” said Sherman Plaza resident Martin Kantor.
Another Sherman Plaza resident and professor of accounting at the Kellogg School of Management, Allan Drebin said the tower “was a bad business decision” for the city.
Others also noted the length of time that had passed since the initial approval of the project, saying that both the building itself and the public benefits promised by the developer at the time it was approved had grown stale.
Anderson defended his project, citing his company’s “track record of delivering quality projects to Evanston,” including the development at 1717 Ridge Avenue.
Due to the economic downtown in 2008, development of the project requires additional time, Anderson said.
After being questioned by Alderman Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, it was revealed that Focus Development no longer has a contract to purchase the property from the owners.
When pressed, Anderson’s attorney, David Reifman, said the property was part of a land trust.
The proposed time extension was moved to City Council from the Planning and Development Committee without a recommendation for action.
Opening discussion of the item, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdalh ruled that the proposal must be approved by six council votes — a super majority.
Rainey moved to overrule Tisdahl, seconded by Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, and argued that there was no “codification in city books” requiring a super majority “for a plain and simple extension.”
City Attorney Grant Farrar said initial approval of the plan required a super majority — because it was passed as a special use — and “it became a matter of simple logic” to mirror the requirement of the original approval.
“A [City Code] amendment on the issue is definitely necessary,” he said.
Rainey said she’d support such an ordinance if it was proposed, but since it does not currently exist, she had to oppose Tisdahl and Farrar’s decision.
The council ultimately voted 6-3 to overrule Tisdahl.
Aldermen Rainey and Burrus ended up on the losing side of the tower extension vote.
Anderson said he was comfortable with the one-year extension, but said his interest in the property would cease if the council failed to grant any extension at all.
Echoing concerns of some of the residents who spoke out about the tower, Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st ward, called the project outdated and irrelevant to current city plans.
“Tim Anderson is not going to build an obsolete building,” Rainey said in response to Fiske’s comments. “It’s not going to happen.”
Both Wilson and Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, suggested the developer could alleviate some of the concerns by starting the project from scratch.
Rainey also disagreed with this line of action, arguing instead to “give it a year and if he can’t do it let’s kill it.”
The proposal was ultimately defeated with a simple majority.
City Council voted 5-4 against the extension, with Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, Alderman Dolores Holmes, 5th Ward, Rainey and Burrus in the minority.
All other items on the City Council agenda Monday night, including the city’s fiscal 2014 budget, a sanitation fee increase and 10 percent water rate increase for next year, were approved unanimously by the council as part of the consent agenda.
So where do things stand?
"After being questioned by Alderman Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, it was revealed that Focus Development no longer has a contract to purchase the property from the owners."
it was not clear where things stand—aside from no extension. Does the statement and the land being in a trust mean a major stumbling block that could not be resolved in six months? One year ?
All the Weathy Alderpersons voted for no extension. They bowed to the people that were concerned about the viewa from the 807 Davis building. Comments about this building would hurt Evanstons Charm are moot ( in my opinion) that was lost with the first new building years ago. The mess with the Bike lanes and the way they configured the sidewalks with the lights and bike racks made it worse.
No changes for now
Things stand as they are.
All that the land trust statement means is that there is a trust that owns the building. Unfortunately the Cook County Reccorder of Deeds website doesn't list which trust actually holds the title, but it does say that a trust acquired the property in June 2013. The trust could be a vehicle for an investor or group of investors. [You could visit the Recorder of Deeds and see the paperwork if you want to find out who owns it].
It is not necessarily a stumbling block. All it means is that they own the building. They could redevelop it, sell it to someone else, or leave it as is.
If they (or whoever they sell it to) want to do anything significant, however, they will have to go through the whole planned development process.
While I wasn't a Tower opponent, I don't have much sympathy for the developer. They had plenty of time to implement their plan and they chose not to. They are not entitled to an automatic extension.
When did Burrus see the light?
If I recall correctly, Burrus was originally a tower-hater when she first ran for alderman in 2009. ( Evanston Now covered a meeting of some citizen planning board that she chaired, and Stuart Opdyche walked out on her when she tried to pass an anti-tower motion with only 4 of 9 members present).
What has caused her to see the light? Perhaps after dealing with Judy Fiske for five years, she has come to recognize the irrationality of NIMBYism. Perhaps she now realizes the need to bring in tax revenue – even at the expense of 'charm'. Perhaps she has acquired some wisdom from the alderman in the adjacent 8th Ward?
Who knows why….but it is nice that she has changed.
I'm disappointed with Alderman Wilson….unlike Tendam and Grover, who have significant numbers of NIMBYs in their wards, Wilson represents a fairly moderate group of residents. Why is he siding with Fiske and Wynn on this issue?
Enquiring Minds Enquire …
I would offer a solution that doesn't involve the pantomime villains residing in your mind. Write to the Aldermen, whomever cast a vote you are curious about and enquire about their thinking.
All too often, we get swept up by what we perceive their thinking to be rather than to watch the meetings (heaven forbid any of us attend!), listen or read what the aldermen say, or even ask why they chose to vote the way they did. You might find them responsive.
The answers aren't always as Manichean as you wish to portray them, but keep enquiring and you just might learn something: the goal of an enquiring mind, is it not?
Hope they propose another project there to build exactly one story higher than Sherman plaza.
Wouldn't that height be within downtown planning and current zoning rights? While it would go through planning and development the whole anti height hysteria would go away. After the height phobias all the claims by the anti development people are easily countered by simple facts.
Then the alderpeople would have a hard time justifying their continued protection of personal views for a handful of wealthy 807 Davis residents to the financial detriment of everyone else in the city.
They had five years and what have we seen
Forgetting all of the NIMBY discussion, it is far more important to recall that these developers had received more time than normally permitted to begin their project. They asked for five years at the start versus three and the old Council awarded it. In part they claimed the market was not good for the project (why then press ahead?) and so more time was needed. In reality they also knew that the next time they came to the Council it was after aldermanic elections and things could be much better when it finally came to approval of the actual project details.
I stress that last point because the size and shape kept changing and, quite probably would do so as they worked their numbers, made estimates as to income and cost and fine-tuned whether it was rental or condo, whether there might be more or less commercial and massaged the parking, etc.
Their big mistake this time, after five years, was not providing much info or sharing with everyone what they intended to build. That could have addressed the fears of the neighbors. Even better, why not have met with those folks, show what you intend, show how you have dealt with parking, traffic, views ,etc and not be so arrogant as to think the new council might just bow down and approve another few years.
All of this and the revelation that there is an issue as to purchasing the property from the new owners, makes things appear about as slippery as other proposed Evanston projects over the past few years, e.g., Main and Chicago, Oak and Emerson, etc. Professor Harold Hill, of Music Man fame, had little on these guys.
Worse yet, the fear of being dispossed when they first came along and got approval resulted in many tenants moving out of that block both at street level and above and the owners, whether the developers or others, made no effort to keep them or replace them given this fluid situation. Personally, the mistake was the initial extra two years with no clause that mandated a penalty in real dollars for not starting by now. Instead Evanton loses tax revenue (property tax and a reduced value building, sales taxes, etc) and we taxpayers make up the difference.
I am also surprised that any alderpersons voted to extend given the arrogance of the devleoper in not coming back each year to provide status and the potential of more lost revenue. I can only conjecture as to why they did so, but will leave consiracy theories to others.
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