Evanston’s Plan Commission Wednesday night recommended that the City Council approve a five-story, 26-unit rental development at Chicago Avenue and Howard Street.

The project would include a garden center called City Grange on its ground floor as well as five affordable apartments.

Developer David Brown said he’d been working on plans for the blighted site for nearly 18 months. It formerly housed an auto repair business and still has a parking lot, which Brown has a contract to purchase from the city.

The commission voted 5-1 to approve the project, and even agreed to eliminate some conditions that city staff had proposed.

Commissioners concluded a proposed two-foot setback for a fence surrounding the open sales lot for the garden center wouldn’t improve the appearance of the property and said a transit-timer video display for building tenants and passersby wouldn’t have much utility.

They also rejected a proposal that the developer pay for countdown timers on traffic signals at the intersection — after noting that the signals there are controlled by the City of Chicago rather than Evanston.

As part of the approval, the commission also endorsed the developer’s plan to provide 30 parking spaces on the site, less than the 37 spaces called for under the city code.

Tom McSheehy.

In public comment, Tom McSheehy of 131 Clyde Ave. complained that elimination of the city parking lot on the site would inconvenience neighbors and hurt the property values of condo owners in the area.

Matt Rodgers.

But his neighbor, Matt Rodgers of 133 Clyde Ave., said he fully supported the plans, that the project would tie together recent developments east and west of Chicago Avenue on Howard, filling what’s been a dead space in between.

He said the widening of Callan Avenue last year had created some additional parking in the neighborhoold and development along Howard is helping bring back property values in the area.

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Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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