Looking north on Chicago Avenue,, with the proposed Merion Legacy building at the center.

A representative of the developers of the proposed 17-story Merion Legacy development today proposed making a $100,000 contribution to the city’s reparations fund as part of the public benefit package for the project.

Speaking at this mornings Reparations Subcommittee meeting, Jonathan Perman said project benefits for planned developments in the past have generally focused on the immediate neighborhood around the site, but that Horizon Realty Group want to “make a serious cash contribution” that would go toward social and human services needs across the city.

Jonathan Perman.

He said the developer is proposing to provide a total of $300,000 — a half of one percent of the construction cost of the project — toward those needs, with a third of that amount targeted for the reparations fund.

“This perhaps would send a signal to the real estate development community as a whole, so that in the future, when a project comes before the city, a similar kind of contribution and expectation would be raised,” Perman added.

The Merion project is scheduled to be introduced at the City Council’s Planning and Development Committee meeting on Monday.

The three aldermen on the subcommittee all praised the idea.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she and Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, are the only members of the City Council who in the past have suggested that public benefits from development projects should benefit the entire community.

“Those ideas were criticized beyond belief,” Rainey added, but that Perman’s proposal “might be more acceptable.”

“When you get right down to it, there’s no reason why the term public benefit shouldn’t mean benefiting the entire public as opposed to the immediate neighborhood.

“Congratulations,” Rainey said, “I’m in full support of the concept.”

Robin Rue Simmons.

Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, said new development has been focused only on certain neighborhoods while others have experienced disinvestment.

She said providing “more amenities for already affluent” areas shouldn’t be the city’s top priority.

She said she supports the concept 100%, but would also have to look at the development itself, independent of the benefit to the reparations fund.

The Plan Commission voted 4-2 against recommending City Council approval for the Merion Legacy project at 1621-1631 Chicago Avenue.

The commission majority concluded that the senior-living project, with 215 apartments and 85 underground parking spaces, was still too tall for the site, even though it had been reduced to 17-stories from a previous 19-story plan.

The City Council has proposed spending $1 million a year for the next 10 years to fund reparations for black residents who the aldermen have concluded were discriminated against by city policies in the past. The primary funding source for the program is the city’s share of the tax on recreational cannabis sales, but the city is also seeking donations for the program.

During today’s meeting Rue Simmons suggested that the reparations effort would have to continue “for multiple generations” and “into perpetuity, based on the damages done.”

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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