David Block.

Evanston’s Land Use Commission voted Wednesday night to recommend City Council approve the as-built appearance of the façade of the new subsidized senior apartment building at 999 Howard St.

A rendering of what the Howard Street façade of the building was supposed to look like.

David Block of Evergreen Real Estate Group, the developer of project, said the changes made from the appearance in plans approved by the city before construction began were driven by supply chain issues created by the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to get the building completed and occupied to meet financing deadlines.

A photo Block presented to the Land Use Commission of the building as it looked this week.

He conceded that he could have done a better job of keeping the city informed about the changes, but noted that the city — while it sends inspectors to review plumbing and electrical and other aspects of a project throughout the construction process — conducts no review of the appearance of a building until it is completed and the developer seeks a final certificate of occupancy.

At that point the city code provides a list of a few changes that can be approved administratively, but anything else — like the façade changes made to this project — requires approval of a major adjustment to the planned development — and that requires a Land Use Commission hearing and a City Council vote.

Block said the building is now 99.98% complete and that getting it done drove up costs — consuming the entire developer’s fee for the 60-unit project.

“We’re not earning a dime on the completion of this building,” Block said, “but we have an obligation to our investors, to the city and the neighbors.”

“We had to make some changes” to get the building done, he added, “and that’s why we’re here.”

Commissioner George Halik said he believes the aesthetics of the building as built “are as good as the previous one,” but he said the real question was what the city should do in the future to provide a process for making sure that unacceptable changes aren’t made to some future project.

Sue Loellbach of Connections for the Homeless said the zoning code should allow flexibility — “particularly right now to allow people to build affordably.”

Warren Brenner, a building resident, said he loves the new building and feels “very lucky” to be there.

The city’s planning manager, Elizabeth Williams, said the staff “understands the challenges” the developer has encountered and is supportive of their request.

She said the city code on major and minor variations “does present some challenges” and that staff is open to looking at revisions to the rules in the future.

The commission voted 8-0 to recommend that the City Council approve the requested major adjustment to the planned development.

It also separately voted to ask staff to review how the city classifies major and minor adjustments to planned developments, suggesting that variations from site allowances granted should be treated as major, but any other changes should be treated as minor ones that staff could approve on their own.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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