Design and Project Review Committee discusses Wesley Court proposal.

The developer who wants to build townhouses and an apartment building on what is currently a vacant and contaminated lot in the 5th Ward says construction of the new 5th Ward school means “huge demand is coming for housing” in that community.

John Cleary discussed his proposed project, called Wesley Court, with the city’s Design and Project Review Committee (DAPR) on Tuesday afternoon.

A rendering of the Wesley Court development.

Cleary wants to put up 19 townhomes and a dozen apartment units on property between Green Bay Road and Jackson Avenue, at the site of a now-abandoned railroad abutment.

While any impact on the 5th Ward school is beyond the scope of DAPR, which focuses on issues such as water runoff, traffic management, project aesthetics and other technical and enviornmental questions, mention of the school was an interesting and unexpected element.

Cleary indicated that new schools tend to attract people to a community, potentially to the point that demand for housing may exceed supply, forcing prices up. That, he said, could “displace residents in the neighborhood.”

“I don’t think people are aware of the consequences,” he added.

Cleary also said that currently, “there are no new houses in the area.”

A view of the proposed development from Green Bay Road.

While he said that Wesley Court could not solve the supply problem by itself, putting new housing, particularly owner-occupied units such as townhomes, will help add to the housing stock.

Those townhomes, Cleary has indicated, will sell for about $575,000 each.

Three of the apartment units will be reserved for affordable (lower than market rate) housing, or, if the city prefers, there could be one affordable unit in the apartment building, and the developer would build an affordable house on a vacant lot on Dodge Avenue.

Cleary also said he will remove 750 truckloads of contaminated dirt from the site ($750,000), also remove the railroad abutment ($350,000) and extend Jackson Avenue ($375,000), all at his own expense. He said he is not asking for any TIF funds from the city, even though the project is eligible based on location.

One DAPR member asked if Cleary could eliminate one or two of the townhomes, to provide for better traffic flow. However, Cleary said that would make the $14 million dollar project economically unfeasible.

Discussion of Wesley Court will continue at the DAPR meeting next Tuesday, with the developer asked to bring in more information about snow removal, dealing with water runoff, availability of parking, the affordable housing component, and issues surrounding utilities, among other questions.

DAPR chair Johanna Nyden, who is the city’s community development director, told Evanston Now the issue do not seem insurmountable, and are normal questions which come up to make sure a development meets city codes.

Whatever DAPR decides, it’s just a recommendation, which goes on to the Land Use Commission and then ultimately to City Council.

Developer Cleary said besides putting life into what is now vacant land, his project will also provide $2 million in new tax revenue over 10 years.

Cleary added that he lives just two blocks away from the site.

“I walk past it every day,” he said. “I want to be proud of it.”

Update 5/24/22: City staff says the May 24 DAPR meeting has been canceled after the applicants for both matters schedule for consideration withdrew their requests for review. They are expected to be rescheduled for a future meeting date.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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  1. It would be the ultimate sad irony if the construction of this school, meant to right past wrongs against a largely minority and low-income community that’s not really constituted as it once was anyway in 2022, ends up contributing to the washing away of the rest of said community in a wave of gentrification.

  2. Urban planning from Jane Jacobs on suggests schools really do not aid the urban environment. They tend to be black holes in the fabric. Schools are something you add to a thriving neighborhood, not use as an excuse to create one. That’s the same post war Planning concept that we’re still trying to dig ourselves out of.

  3. I appreciate Chris’ comment, but there is potential for much-needed redevelopment in that neighborhood. The new brewery on Ashland and the BBQ place around the corner show that there is some potential there. If you move a couple blocks west there are some decent fixer uppers and large lots with tear down potential. The Purple line and even downtown are pretty walkable from the neighborhood.

    If I were in real estate I would be bullish on the neighborhood. Hopefully this project gets approved and we see improvement in terms of property values in the neighborhood.

    1. I am also bullish on the community. Houses, stores, restaurants, services: things that make streets active are what create a thriving community. Schools are acres of no activity, sealed behind fences and guarded walls, where no activity occurs, an urban dead zone. A school is something you insert into a community when it’s thriving, and you ask yourself, “can it take it?”
      I wish there were discussions about how to integrate schools into a community. I suspect that the more insular they are, the more divorced from the street, the greater targets they become for something going wrong.

  4. I think it’s great for the neighborhood and for Evanston but I would expect ferocious “anti-gentrification” opposition. Remember when that entrepreneur tried to put a restaurant in that empty condemned building that fell over on 1829 Simpson? People are going to lose their minds when they see how much developer activity is going to be going on over there because of the new school.

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