City staff is proposing more building height — especially in downtown Evanston — as a way of encouraging production of more affordable housing.

Proposed changes to the city’s inclusionary housing ordinance presented at a City Council subcomittee meeting last week would require developers to produce more on-site affordable housing and contribute more to the city’s affordable housing fund.

But in trade the city would offer increases in housing unit density and floor area ratio that would lead to taller buildings in many zones across the city.

The subcommittee studying changes to the ordinance is scheduled to have one more meeting on the proposals before forwarding them to the full City Council for consideration.

Here are examples of how the proposed changes would have affected three recently-approved developments.

Albion Residential

The Albion Residential development at 1500 Sherman Ave. was originally proposed in April 2017 to be 16 stories tall with 298 apartment units and 192 parking spaces.

The developers planned to not have any on-site subsidized units but make a $3 million contribution to the city’s affordable housing fund.

As finally approved by the City Council on a 5-4 vote last November, it was a 15-story building with 273 apartments, including 15 subsidized units on site, and 200 parking spaces.

Reducing the height to 15 stories meant the project only needed a simple majority, instead of a two-thirds vote from the Council for approval.

Further revisions to the plans approved by city staff in May have cut the number of apartment units to 268.

Under the proposed changes to the inclusionary housing ordinance, this development would have been required to have at least 14 affordable units on site and would have had to pay a fee-in-lieu of $175,000 each for another 14 units not included on site, for a total in-lieu fee of $2.45 million.

At least partially offsetting that additional cost for the developer would be a floor area ratio bonus for downtown developments that would increase the potential density by a third — from the 5.99 the developer proposed to to 8.0.

To take advantage of that bonus, the developer would have to build higher — likely to 20 stories rather than 15.

That would exceed the height limit provided by the zoning code, but that variance could be approved, under the proposed inclusionary housing ordinance changes, by a simple majority vote of aldermen — instead of the two-thirds vote that would now be required.

824-828 Noyes St.

A rendering of the 824-828 Noyes St. development

This project was proposed in May 2016 with retail space on the ground floor and 44 apartment units, including four subsidized units.

The land it is on is split between B1 and R5 zones. The R5 zone would have permitted more residential density but not allowed the retail use, so city staff opted to review the project under the B1 zoning provisions.

The B1 zone requires 2,500 square feet of lot area for each dwelling unit, which would have limited the project to eight apartment units as of right. Having more than 12 units meant the project required a two-thirds majority vote of the City Council to win approval.

It ultimately was approved by aldermen 8-1 in September, 2016.

Under the proposed changes to the inclusionary housing ordinance, this project could have been approved by a simple majority of the City Council.

The developer would be required required to have at least two subsidized units on site, and his fee-in-lieu payment, in this location near a rail line, for the other two subsidized units not provided on site would have been $175,000 per unit instead of $100,000 per unit.

3233-3249 Central St.

A rendering of the proposed development at 3233-49 Central St.

Originially proposed as a 14-unit development in 2016, this project was rejected by the Zoning Board of Appeals this February at that size.

Scaled down to a 12-unit development, still two units more than permitted by right under the zoning code, the project was approved by the ZBA in April after the developers agreed to include an affordable unit on-site, rather than make the permitted alternative of a $75,000 contribution to the city’s affordable housing fund.

Under the proposed revisions to the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, had the developers of this project initially proposed a 12-unit development with one on-site affordable unit, the project could have been approved as of right, without requiring review by the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Had they not opted to provide the on-site affordable unit, the cost of the fee-in-lieu payment for this site that’s not near a rail line would have increased to $150,000.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Leave a comment

The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *