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Merion Legacy vote postponed until April

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Evanston’s Plan Commission voted late Wednesday to postpone a decision on the proposed 19-story Merion Legacy development at 1621 Chicago Ave. until April to give the developer, Horizon Realty Group, time to revise its plans.

Horizon’s request for the delay came after it became apparent from comments by the commissioners that project was unlikely to get a positive recommendation from the panel at its current size.

“I’ve never seen a project ask for so many variances and give so little public benefit in return,” said Commissioner Carol Goddard.

Commissioner George Halik said he saw a lot of positive things about the project and said he agreed with the developer’s view that Chicago Avenue should have similar zoning on both sides of the street.

If the proposed development were on the west side of the street, its height would be permitted under the zoning code.

But variances a developer requests should be minor in the scope of a project, Halik added, and this project is asking for major changes — twice as tall, twice the floor area ratio.

Halik suggested the developer should seek to have the zoning changed instead of requesting such massive variances.

Commissioner Brian Johnson agreed with Halik. “There’s a lot to like about this project,” he said, including “more potental shoppers for our ailing retail spaces.”

“However, I feel like I can’t vote to approve it because it goes so far outside of what’s allowed in that zoning district,” Johnson added.

Only four residents offered comments on the project during the meeting, but all of those who did speak urged rejection of the plans.

The nine-member commission is likely to have a different composition by the time of its April meeting. Goddard and Commissioner Andrew Pigozzi completed their six years on the board at Wednesday’s meeting and there is already one vacancy on the panel.

The Plan Commission will make a recommendation about the project to the City Council. Because of the scale of the variances currently being requested for the development, it would require a two-thirds vote to win final approval there.

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