Jeff Michael.

Developer Jeff Michael faced a tough crowd Tuesday night at a 1st Ward meeting.

Michael’s Horizon Realty Group is seeking to build an 18-story, 180-unit apartment building at 1621 Chicago Ave.

He’s been pushing various plans for the site since 2017, and his last design died in a City Council committee in 2020.

With half a decade to organize, opponents of the project were in no mood to accept the new plan, although it is in some respects scaled down from the proposal the Council rejected.

A slide from the developer’s presentation comparing the two version of the 1621 Chicago Ave. proposal.

The new proposal calls for including 18 on-site affordable units in the development — 13 as required by the city’s inclusionary housing ordinance — and five additional units as a public benefit.

Clare Kelly.

Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) falsely claimed during the meeting that all 18 units were required under the city ordinance, until a city staffer explained that the ordinance offers developers who provide 10% affordable units on site a bonus of four additional market-rate units for each affordable unit.

So, with a base unit count of 128 units, and 10% — or 13 of those designated as affordable — the project qualifies to include 13×4 or 52 additional market rate units with no additional affordable housing obligation under the code.

Martha Rudy.

Martha Rudy, a staffer with Habitat for Humanity in Chicago, falsely claimed that the calculation of what counts as an affordable unit under the law is based on the median income in Evanston, so that adding new market-rate units at the site would make the “affordable” units less affordable.

In fact, the calculation of affordable rental rates by the government is based on area median income — which means the rates for Evanston’s 78,000 residents are the same as those for the other 5.1 million residents of Cook County.

When Michael challenged some speakers’ claims during the meeting, several attendees said his attitude should lead the city to reject the project.

“This is the third call I have been on,” Jeremy Vannatta wrote in the chat, “I do not appreciate your tone, Jeff.”

And Jenny Washburn wrote, “If this is the tone he takes with us, imagine how his tenants must feel. Take this behavior into consideration.”

Most speakers at the meeting, which drew an online crowd of about 70, simply don’t want anything tall built on the site.

Grace Imathiu

The Rev. Grace Imathiu of 1st United Methodist Church, across an alley to the east of the site, said the building would cast a shadow on the church.

Some residents who themselves live in downtown high-rises said they oppose additional high-rise construction.

The proposed new building is highlighted in yellow in this image from the developer’s presentation.

And some residents who live in expensive single-family homes objected to construction of what they called “luxury” apartments, though those rents would likely be less than the carrying costs for the sort of home they live in.

Others claimed that the building would add to parking congestion downtown, although city officials have noted that with the pandemic-induced decline in office occupancy, the city has ample spaces available in its downtown garages.

But not quite everyone who attended the meeting opposed the project.

Joy Schwabach wrote in a chat message during the Zoom meeting, “I used to live in the Park Evanston high-rise across the street from it, and I worried about my view being blocked. But I think it’s a great idea. More housing will drive down prices and bring in revenue.”

The next step in the review process for the planned development is a hearing before the Land Use Commission. That’s tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 10.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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8 Comments

  1. Meanwhile, the folks at Downtown Evanston lament the state of Evanston’s retail climate because not enough people are downtown to support the stores. The single best thing our city can do to support and encourage more retail is to bring more residents into our downtown.

  2. Solid reporting here, thanks for fact-checking those false statements. Elected officials and NGO staff being ignorant of their own government’s policies and then getting defensive and threatening with people frustrated by their incompetence – adds some context to the city’s problems attracting and retaining staff huh?

  3. The issue is not more people, which I think we can all agree would help support the downtown. The issue is that the building is out of scale, poorly designed, and has no relation to its context. Drop to ten stories, have a better articulated first, second, and third floors, and it would likely be a lovely project.

  4. Ridiculous tall building
    No one that like me lives in the 1st ward wants this humongous building! Evanston has already too many buildings! Plus this kind of snob and rude behavior from the developer like he rules the town…please stop already. This is a SUBURB! I will never understand this obsession in making Evanston the new Chicago. Go build somewhere else.

    1. Evanston is not a suburb; it is a city in its own right. But regardless, towns need somewhere for people to live, and as long as we keep producing more people, your attitude smacks of a local version of xenophobia.

  5. There are benefits and costs to such developments. Too much focus is often given to the costs. The price of land in high in Evanston, so higher buildings reduce the per unit cost of development. Further, many studies show that too many restrictions on housing supply result in higher rents and housing prices. Increases in density has benefits as well such as a wider variety of retail stores and cultural activities. I live in a high rise downtown and would support further developments like the one proposed.

  6. The main reason developers don’t build affordable housing is cost. If they remove floors it is going to increase the cost of the project to the point that it is unscalable. Why do these same people keep banging the drum for affordable housing when the percent of affordable housing in Evanston (17%) is nearly double the state mandate (10%) Why don’t we articulate the ratio of affordable housing we are trying to get to or are you people just going keep tanking real estate deals that bring in money and keep segregating hundreds of subsidized units to my ward (8th) far away from your safely zoned palatial properties that are the opposite of the efficiency that a high rise brings.

  7. Great job neighbors and Alderperson Kelly. Someone wants to significantly expand the real estate tax rolls and add to the traffic downtown businesses desperately need, and we tell him he is a rude snob when he pushes back at lies and falsehoods. We’re really putting our best foot forward again.

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