Promises from developer Robert King to seek a grocery tenant for ground-floor retail space enabled him to win City Council approval Monday of his proposed 14-story mixed-use rental apartment building at 1890 Maple Ave.

1890 Maple plan

A rendering looking north on Maple. The building approved Monday is on the left with the red awnings.

The developer showed aldermen a letter of intent from the Trader Joe’s chain to take the space, and agreed, if that deal falls through, to aggressively pursue other grocery operaters for the site.

With that, Alderman Cheryl Wollin, 1st Ward, announced she had switched her position to support the plan, and the project, which had been tabled for months for the lack of a sixth supporting vote, was approved, despite objections from opponents that they’d been blindsided by the switch.

Ald. Wollin said that she realizes the grocery isn’t a certainty, but said if one does materialize it would be a great advantage to many downtown residents who lack cars.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said she had serious doubts about the viability of the site for a grocery — given its constrained urban space and parking atypical for a supermarket.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she’d learned during her two-year campaign to bring a grocery to the former Osco drug store site at Asbury Avenue and Oakton Street that many grocers that are not chains are interested in coming to Evanston.

Ald. Rainey and other city officials have been frustrated by Trader Joe’s previous rejection of Evanston sites, including the former Osco store, and she suggested she’s not very confident it will actually end up being the grocery tenant at 1890 Maple.

She praised Ald. Wollin and Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, for working out the grocery agreement with the developer.

Of Ald. Wollin, she said, “Her leadership on this showed a lot of courage. It’s not always easy to change your mind. I’m very impressed with her work on this.”

Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, said, “People are playing fast and loose with our process here. I’m offended by it. Maybe certain people were privy to this thing that came up tonight, but I didn’t know about it.”

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, responded that “those who have been inflexible about the project have not been involved in the discussions. Those who are flexible have been trying to see if we can get the benefits” of the project’s new rental housing for the community.

Ald. Moran’s motion to postpone a vote failed for lack of a second, with Ald. Wynne noting that she could count and saw that the 1890 Maple proposal now had the votes to pass.

Ald. Holmes said, “We’re not banking on Trader Joe’s, but we need a grocery store in the area. This is right across the street from my ward, and it’s something we need.”

Aldermen Moran and Wynne said they believe the project is too large for the site and that the council had erred in approving the 18-story 1881 Oak Ave. condo tower adjacent to it.

Ald. Anjana Hansen, 9th Ward, said she doubted a grocery would ultimately locate there, that parking would be a huge issue, and that she still believed that a vote on the project should wait until after the downtown planning process is complete.

Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, said she supports the project because the city needs additional rental housing to replace units lost to condo conversion.

Alderman Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward, said he favored the project without the grocery plan and that the grocery would be a good amenity for the community.

While the amended agreement with the developer calls for efforts to bring a grocery store to the site, it also contains a ten-year ban on locating a convenience store on the premises.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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