Evanston’s Land Use Commission voted 7-0 Wednesday night to recommend that City Council reject plans for an 18-story apartment building at 1621 Chicago Ave.
The vote came after after the panel heard over an hour of objections to the project from neighbors, including Bernard Riley, president of the 1500 Hinman co-op apartments, who called it “a death star of a project” that was “patently inappropriate for the area.”
Commissioner Max Puchtel said the developers were proposing “a beautiful building” but that it didn’t fit with the site’s downtown transitional district zoning.
Commissioner Brian Johnson said the city does need more residents downtown to provide more vitality and activation, but said the building was out of scale for the district.
Commissioner George Halik said, “When I walk around I see empty storefronts and I don’t see restaurants or business coming back, I’m terrified.”
“One thing that could help is more housing downtown,” Halik added. “The goal should be to get something built on this site, but I think this project is just too big.”
After the commissioners announced their views, Graham Grady, an attorney for developer Horizon Realty Group, said his client wanted to prepare revisions to the proposal base on “the many concerns stated.”
Commission Chair Matt Rodgers said the developers would have 60 days to make any revisions before the project would have to go before City Council.
But he indicated that major changes would likely lead the Council to direct that a new planned unit development application be submitted, which would lead to another hearing before the LUC.
I find it a little concerning that the Commission didn’t seem to review the design of this building. I don’t mean the mass of it, the height, or the density etc… I mean the articulation of its various components and its proposed materials. Its even more concerning to see that some members actually applauded its design. It has no visual relationship to the buildings to which it is surrounded, the two levels of parking garage atop the retail space are deadened with no active use, it does not respect the existing datums of the buildings its directly adjacent to (lovely blank wall to look at for eternity on the building to its south). It’s essentially a deadened and poorly articulated podium with a glass cube atop it. I think we deserve better. Who reviews the design of these buildings if not this Commission? I personally don’t buy into the traffic or density concerns that were brought up. The height should be reduced. No question. But more than anything, this building is ugly.
Badly articulated retail on ground plus parking podium plus uniform massing of units on top seems to be the general approach for many projects these days. For an especially egregious example, see the condo tower on Maple next to the lock shop. There’s an especially terrible blank wall on the north facade. It would be best if they would make the parking subterranean, but that seems to be prohibitively expensive. This particular design vocabulary really screwed up the character of River North in Chicago, and I too wish they would aim higher.
I actually really like what they built on the southeast corner of Main and Chicago (even with the parking garage), and would love to see more designs of this type.
Thanks City Observer and Aaron. Would you mind reaching out to me via email to discuss your urban design interest ? We are working on a new design initiative at the City that I hope you will be interested in.
Thanks. Paul Zalmezak
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