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Recap: City Council committee meetings

Evanston's Planning and Development Committee this evening voted unanimously to kill the Merion Legacy high-rise project on Chicago Avenue.

Here’s a recap of our live coverage of the meetings of the Evanston City Council’s Administration and Public Works and Planning and Development Committees.

The A&PW meeting is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. The P&D meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m.

A packet with information on the A&PW agenda items is available here. For the P&D packet, look here.

The Administration and Public Works Committee is scheduled to recommend approval of several contracts.

The Planning and Development Committee will discuss the proposal for the 17-story Merion Legacy project at 1621-1631 Chicago Ave.

Administration and Public Works Committee

Meeting starts at 4:34 p.m.

A1 – Payroll and bills
Approved 5-0.

A2 – Crown Center HVAC maintenance change order
No cost change.
Approved 5-0.

A3 – Clearwell 9 replacement project change order
$387K increase in $19M contract. Most of increase to be reimbursed by Northwestern University.
Approved 5-0

A4 – NorthStar Utility Billing System change order
Extends term of support contract for six months.
Approved 5-0.

A5 – Water treatment chemicals purchase contracts
Approved 5-0.

A6 – Congregate senior meal program grant awards
Approved 5-0.

A7 – Easement to Northwestern University for steam infrastructure on Emerson Street.
Location is just west of Sheridan Road and just north of Cahn Auditorium.
Approved 5-0.

Meeting adjourned at 4:51 p.m.

Planning and Development Committee

Meeting called to order at 5:02 p.m.

Minutes approved 7-0.

Chair Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, rearranges agenda to take the planned development item before the plat of resubdivision item.

Public Comment

13 people signed up. All speak against the Merion Legacy project. Say it’s too tall and some add that they don’t like the last-minute proposed $100,000 contribution to the city’s reparations fund.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, moves to deny the planned development request. Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, seconds that motion.

Dennis Harder makes a presentation for opponents of the project, recapping in part the arguments made against it by the Plan Commission.

Development team makes its presentation, led by Jeff Michael.

Says has spent three years putting together “this wonderful project” to Evanston. Says will provide over $9 million in project tax revenue.

Says new building will change the block for the better.

Jonathan Perman, speaking for the developer, says some buildings to the east of the alley (at Davis Street) are far taller than what’s called for by the “transition” zoning of the site.

Committee discussion

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, says he appreciates the work done to improve the existing building. But the new building “is not working for me.”

Says would need to have game-changing benefit to the community to justify the requested variations. Doesn’t think it’s here.

Fiske says there’s nothing here that meets the standards in the zoning ordinance that should be applied. Notes the 10-story Hyatt Hotel (a block to the south) which, she says, fits in with the zoning.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, says the reparations committee was thrilled to hear that somebody wanted to make a commitment to the reparations project. Says there was no “pay to play” or “bribing” on that. Says hurts to hear constituents say that, it was very far from the truth.

Fiske says, “The optics of that looked very bad.” Puts the Council in a very difficult place of looking like there are different standards.

Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, says she appreciated Perman’s presentation to the Reparations Subcommittee. Says the $10 million committed to the reparations program by the city is not enough. Says the developer’s proposal was very impressive.

Says clear that staff and Plan Commission is opposed. Says she’s surprised that business community hasn’t backed the proposal because of how it would bring new residents downtown.

Wynne says she’s not received any comments in support of the project from the business community.

Rainey says she got just one letter from a constituent in support of it.

Rue Simmons says should have public benefits that benefit the entire city — especially areas that are less likely to have new development.

Johanna Nyden, community development director, says two or three years ago, for the Albion, had to show that public benefits were directly addressing the allowances that were being requested.

Nick Cummings, deputy city attorney, says there needs to be a nexus between the benefit and the development’s impact. Says can expand “a little bit beyond” the development site.

Says doesn’t seem to be a sufficient nexus for the reparations program.

Cummings says it might be different if the city had specified a contribution to the reparations fund as one of a list of potential public benefits.

Wynne says she’s opposed to the project — size and not proportional to what’s permitted on the site. Says building looks enormous. Says site could be developed in so many different, better ways. Says public benefits are insufficient.

Revelle says she agrees with Wynne.

Vote on the motion to deny the planned development request is 7-0. So proposal fails in committee and will not be moving on to City Council.

P1 – Plat of resubdivision
David Meek, attorney for developer, says do want to move forward with that. Says Design and Project Review Committee and the Plan Commission voted for that change.

Fiske says should wait for a new proposal for redevelopment before granting the resubdivision.

She moves to deny the resubdivision.

Rainey says there’s no reason not to grant the subdivision.

Wilson says without it they can’t sell the property.

Motion to deny the resubdivision fails 2-5.

Wilson moves to approve the subdivision.

That motion carries 5-2.

So this item advances to the City Council tonight.

P2 – Major adjustment to the 1605-1631 Chicago Avenue planned development

Wilson moves approval. (This basically splits the existing planned development from the parcel that had been proposed for the new development and so changes to the numbers for the existing development need to be changed to match what’s already built.)

Motion carries 7-0.

Meeting adjourned at 6:48 p.m.

City Council meeting to stat at 7 p.m.

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