Evanston’s Land Use Commission voted unanimously Wednesday night to recommend City Council approval of plans to convert the vacant Masonic Temple building at 1453 Maple Ave. into 30 apartment units.

During public comment on the plans some neighbors, including Jennifer Grandy of 1503 Maple Ave., praised the proposal to bring new life to a block that is now bookended by the vacant Masonic Temple building at one end and a largely vacant office building at the other.

Jennifer Grandy.

“We need more of this type of housing and more eyes on the street in this area,” she said.

But Sari Kadison Shapiro, who lives a block away at 1453 Elmwood Ave., said 30 units was way too much density for the site and questioned whether Evanston residents really want the city to focus on “transit-oriented development” that provides limited parking.

“I don’t recall ever voting about that,” Kadison Shapiro said, “Most residents don’t even know what it is.”

The Masonic Temple at 1453 Maple Ave.

Developer Gary Stoltz of R2 Lodge LLC said that given the limited lot size and the building’s massive load-bearing masonry walls, it’s not feasible to provide underground parking in the temple’s basement.

Gary Stoltz.

He said he has reached agreement with the Holiday Inn, at 1501 Sherman Ave., to lease 10 parking spaces in the hotel garage just under 1,000 feet to the east of the temple.

In discussion with commission members, he said he was open to increasing the amount of leased parking. He said he’d been told a city parking lot across Lake Street from the site has no space available for lease and had not gotten a response from the McGaw YMCA to his inquiries about leasing spaces in its lot across Maple Avenue.

After a speaker suggested that much of the parking in the Maple Grove Apartments at 1501 Maple Ave., just north of the temple, is not used, he said he’d also be willing to inquire about leasing spaces there.

In the end, the Commission recommended that the City Council require the lease of a minimum of 15 parking spaces for the project, with that requirement to be reviewed by city staff after the building has been occupied for two years.

Commissioner George Halik said the building has been vacant for six years and that “when a developer comes up with an idea like this we should grab it.”

“It’s a great use” that saves an historic building for Evanston, he added.

The commissioners also added a condition that the developer explore with city staff finding an alternative location for a handicap lift at the front of the building, which they said harmed the symmetry of the classical revival structure.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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