The proposed 1621 Chicago Ave. building.

Opinion:

Developer Jeff Michael offers his view on how to provide responsible growth -- balancing market rate and subsidized housing.

The proposed Legacy development by Horizon Realty Group (HRG) at 1621-31 Chicago
Avenue will increase the number of affordable units in downtown Evanston by 18%, and yet, the fears and debate over the impact of this project on the adjacent neighborhood continues.

Specious claims are being made about added traffic and parking problems even though
professional transportation experts and City staff see no merit in these criticisms.

There also continues to be a mistaken perception that new luxury apartments in Evanston are somehow forcing out long-term residents with gentrification.

HRG has been a champion of providing value rental housing in Evanston. At The Merion, we invested over $40M to preserve and add to an historic building that had fallen into poor condition under previous ownership.

Instead of being displaced in favor of market rate housing, senior residents are offered beautifully furnished apartments, stimulating social, educational and health programming with top-notch dining services.

The choice of new construction or preservation, need not be a binary one. A third way is
responsible growth, which can also protect the integrity of a neighborhood while creating diverse communities. We see The Legacy as a model of this third way that can meet Evanston’s ambitions.

Over the past two decades, downtown Evanston has realized some robust development and growth as an inner-ring community in the Chicago area, without any documented displacement. Meaning, the new development projects have not replaced buildings that had affordable housing – nor will the proposed Legacy project.

Meeting the demand for new housing, developers have built new apartments at market rate prices that correspond with the inherent high land costs.

Meanwhile, Evanston’s Inclusionary Housing Ordinance (IHO), the Cook County Housing Authority, and other rental housing developers are protecting and expanding affordable homeownership and rental options with unique combinations of private and public investment, and partnerships.

This includes The Emerson at 1900 Sherman Ave. and the Ann Rainey apartments at 999-1015 Howard St.

The Legacy is doing both. The Legacy will comply with the IHO by creating 18 affordable units at 60% AMI (the IHO only requires 13 IHO units for this project – the developer has offered the five additional IHO units as a public benefit), the largest single commitment to affordable housing ever in a downtown Evanston market rate development.

Further, it will meet general housing demands by creating much needed transit oriented apartments that bring people to work locally and patron local businesses.

Inherent in the Evanston IHO, as with other similar ordinances around the country, there is a trade-off. To incent developers like HRG to provide affordable housing units and acknowledging the construction costs of those units, the IHO offers a bonus of 4 additional market rate units that can be built for each required (in our case, 13) affordable units provided.

This cooperative arrangement has worked well in Evanston and has resulted in nearly 100 new affordable units of housing, either completed or approved.

Evanston has also attracted significant commercial investments, including office space,
providing residents and other job seekers, with new amenities, entertainment, food offerings, and jobs — including 1732-40 Orrington Life Sciences building and the 605 Davis St. offices — with more on the way.

On the public side, the CTA and Metra, with new federal infrastructure dollars, are in the midst of modernizing their rights-of-ways to make Evanston’s business districts, Northwestern, and two medical centers, even more accessible.

The private sector is driven by housing demand in downtown Evanston and the Chicago Avenue corridor – some a result of the movement away from the Chicago to inner-ring and suburban communities – and some because of Evanston’s office options.

Chicago Avenue, running north-south through the heart of downtown Evanston, is indeed a visible centerpiece for continued growth.

Still, in other neighborhoods of Evanston, land costs are less and therefore programs such as the Community Reinvestment Act, Low-Income Tax Credits, ADUs, and consideration of more density may offer even greater prospects for building new or rehabbed affordable units.

Here there are opportunities to add to Evanston’s affordable housing stock with less base costs. Corridors such as Emerson Street and Dodge Avenue also deserve the attention of advocates, investors and public policy.

Now, Evanston has an opportunity to build on its substantial assets and the experience of the past two decades through wise transit-oriented and environmentally sustainable models, which are two key tenets of The Legacy proposal.

Evanston can shape development that adds to the tax base and also redouble its commitment to affordability, equity, and equality. The key is for Evanston to leverage its remarkable and durable assets which include: the lakefront beaches, convenient mass transit, and proximity to a world-class university.

To be a successful city, Evanston cannot stand still. It must take a multi-dimensional approach to solving its challenges, including the financing of schools and public services, all the while responsibly using market growth to meet its social contract.


Evanston Now welcomes guest essays from our readers on local issues.

Jeff Michael is chief operating officer of Horizon Realty Group.

Join the Conversation

8 Comments

  1. My only objection to this project was the original plan to introduce curb cuts onto Chicago Ave. I believe that those issues were resolved in the current iteration.

    Assuming that’s the case, the project should go forward. It is unfortunate that the developer has to resort to writing op-eds to try and get his project approved.

    The “lack of affordability” critique by some residents is clearly a canard that NIMBYs are using to oppose any change. The developer could have built 100% affordable units and the NIMBYs would still be out in force but they would just use a different excuse.

  2. I am firmly opposed to this plan, alongside many other residents, and will be happy to further address my concerns, in person, at the LUC meeting, where, I believe, another story will be told.

    1. Which LUC meeting will this be and how can I see it? I am curious to know the other side of the argument here.

      1. Hi Tom,
        The 1621 Chicago Ave. project is currently scheduled to be considered by the Land Use Commission at 7 p.m. on Sept. 14. LUC meetings are broadcast live on cable channel 16 and the city’s YouTube channel.
        — Bill

  3. I’m all for this. The developer has met all possible objections concerning traffic and diversity. I don’t see how any liberal-minded person could be against a plan that will help provide more housing. By continuing to argue for a limit to the supply, the naysayers are forcing either a shortage of available units or an increase in prices in an era of already-burdensome inflation.

  4. Many in our community strongly oppose this violation of zoning guidelines for this transition zone : 18 stories instead of allowed 6-10 stories allowed, 195 feet height greatly exceeding maximum of 105 feet restriction, 180 units proposed vs maximum of 54 allotted per zoning, 57 parking spaces where 130 are required per zoning… and other egregious violations. Please use your voice at the Planning commission meeting on September 14th and demand City to uphold its established Zoning Ordinance and 2009 Plan for Downtown.

  5. A few things to note.

    First, the only way to realistically create affordability across the City, is to build more housing units and A LOT of them. Should these all be concentrated in the downtown? No, probably not, but thats largely what our current zoning permits, and the proximity to transit and options to lease rather than provide on-site parking is only largely viable in the downtown area.

    Second, the single most effective way local governments can support climate resilience is to build dense, efficient/green, in-fill development. A one-part, rather vernacular building in such close proximity to downtown amenities and transit seems like a just casualty.

    We need more housing, we need dense development, we need to build up, we need to relax our parking requirements as they kill affordability and simply induce parking demand that likely wouldn’t exist otherwise due to transit proximity. However, none of the above is an excuse for the poorly designed and articulated building that’s proposed. If it fails, it fails not because it is a bad idea conceptually, but a poor design that doesn’t respect the vocabulary of its surroundings.

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published.