The owners of The Merion retirement community have slashed the height of their proposed new residential development on the adjoining property at 1621-1631 Chicago Ave. from 25 to 13 stories.

The new plan, shown at a 1st Ward meeting Tuesday night, also shifts the design motif from a contemporary, mostly glass facade to a more traditional brick design.

The previous plan, unveiled at a ward meeting last October, called for 215 apartments and 149 parking spaces.

The new plan, as described at the meeting by Johanna Leonard, the city’s community development director, would have 156 apartments and 85 parking spaces in two underground parking levels.

The parking included falls short of the 119 spaces called for by the zoning code.

The proposed building would be 145 feet tall, Leonard said.

That just fits within the height limit for a residential planned development in the D4 zone where the property is located.

Under the city’s zoning code, the base height limit for a residential building in the D4 zone is 105 feet. But planned developments are entitled to up to an extra 40 feet. (If the development had above-ground floors mostly devoted to parking it could also qualify for up to an additional 40 feet more in height.)

The developer’s new plan calls for a floor area ratio of 7.92. (That’s the ratio between the total square footage of the building and the size of the lot.)

The zoning code caps the floor area ratio in the D4 zone at 5.4, but offers a bonus of 0.6 for planned developments.

However the City Council can approve planned developments that exceed that cap by a two-thirds majority vote.

The developer is proposing to pay $1.6 million to the city’s inclusionary housing fund, rather than include subsidized units on site.

Leonard said the city can encourage the developer to provide on-site units instead, but that the city’s legal department has concluded that it cannot make on-site units the only available option.

The zoning code also has a provision that limits the number of dwelling unit based on the square footage of the lot. In the D4 zone that calls for 400 square feet of lot size for every dwelling unit, which would set a limit of 54 dwelling units for this property.

Leonard said most recent planned developments approved by the city have had more dwelling units than the code called for, “but this one is a little higher than others we’ve seen come in.”

She said typical unit sizes have declined since the zoning code was adopted in 1993.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, suggested that, rather than having the parking entrance off Chicago Avenue as shown in the plans, the entrance should be off the alley.

But residents of the condo building at 522 Church St. said the alley now floods and suggested that the developer should be required to repave the full-block length of the alley as well as upgrade its drainage.

Fiske suggested that the project is not likely to reach the Plan Commission stage of the city’s review process until September or October.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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