Continuing development in downtown Evanston will require turning Emerson Street into a four-lane road from Ridge to Maple Avenues someday soon, regardless of what happens with the proposal to build a 14-story building at 1890 Maple Ave.

1890 Maple rendering

Architect Patrick FitzGerald told Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste the new building would retain same setback at the corner as the existing structure.

That’s the conclusion of the city’s transportation director, John Burke, who spoke at a community meeting on the 1890 Maple project Thursday night.

Mr. Burke told neighbors, who’ve objected to the planned new building in part over concerns about traffic backups along Emerson during the afternoon rush hour, that the city also hopes to reduce congestion in the area by installing new traffic signals that would be coordinated with each other to adjust light cycles to traffic conditions.

The city was denied state funding for that project a couple years ago, but plans to reapply for state aid again soon.

He said the road is wide enough, at 48 feet, so that it can accommodate four traffic lanes if parking is removed from the south side of the street, where newer buildings tend to have sufficient off-street parking. The city would continue to permit parking on the north side of the street where older buildings have less off-street parking available.

Mr. Burke said a conversion to four-lane traffic can make a road less pedestrian-friendly by leading to heavier traffic traveling at higher speeds. But he said the new traffic signals will make it possible to time the lights to discourage speeding.

Residents and the traffic experts agreed that westbound traffic on Emerson now frequently back up from Ridge to Maple during the afternoon rush and that northbound drivers on Maple frequently have trouble finding room to turn left onto Emerson during those hours.

The city’s traffic engineers believe the shift to four lanes would shorten the backups so they would generally not reach beyond Oak Avenue, a block west of Maple.

Community Development Director James Wolinski said the traffic signal project could cost $1.5 million, and state aid might cover 80 percent of that cost. He said the city might well ask the developer to pick up some of the cost of the signal project as a public benefit in return for the zoning allowances he’s requesting in his planned development application.

The 1890 Maple site now is occupied by a vacant three-story office building. The 14-story replacement proposed by developer Robert King of Carroll Properties, with an approximate cost of $20 million, would have 152 rental apartments and townhouses, 269 parking spaces and 40,000 square feet of commercial space on the building’s first two floors.

The building would be about 64 feet taller than the 85 foot limit under the base zoning for the area, but because the upper floors of the building are set back 50 feet or more from the  lot-line on Emerson, the total floor area ratio is slightly less than what’s permitted by the zoning code.

The developer’s architect, Patrick FitzGerald, said he hopes the retail space will be occupied by a single tenant, possibly a sporting goods store, but that the space could be subdivided.

Mr. King said he expected that monthly rents would be about $1.80 per square foot, which would work out to a price range from about $1,000 for a studio apartment to $2,100 for the biggest three-bedroom units, with an extra charge of about $125 per month for each parking space.

Related stories

Maple project has neighbors steaming – Jan. 7, 2007

Another high-rise for research park – Nov. 20, 2006

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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