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It was “Second verse, same as the first” Tuesday night at the Evanston Public Library as a crowd of about 70 residents repeated complaints about a planned 14-story building at 831 Emerson St. that would seek college students as tenants.

The developers unveiled some minor revisions to their plans since a previous public meeting in September — reducing the planned number of apartments from 297 to 287 and increasing the building’s setback from the east property line to provide easier access through the adjoining alley.

But neighbors’ complaints about the height of the building and the plan to rent largely to students remained the same.

Although existing Northwestern University dorms are located a block east and a block west of the site, the neighbors, who chose to live close to the campus, objected to permitting students to live near them — complaining about noise and bicycle riders who fail to obey traffic laws.

Director Justin Pelej of Focus Development listens at the meeting.

The site currently houses a dry cleaning plant, and Alderman Judy Fiske, whose 1st Ward includes the site, complained about the 35 jobs there that would be lost if the plant is demolished.

Alderman Judy Fiske.

The developers said that the site currently generates only about $130,000 in property tax revenue annually — which they said would likely increase to over $1 million if the apartments are built.

They also said they were willing to sign an agreement with the city that would bar them from selling the development to the university. A sale to the school could result in the building coming off the tax rolls.

Architect Thomas Kerwin.

Project architect Thomas Kerwin said the developers had worked hard to make the building’s design comply with the city’s design guidelines — which call for breaking up the mass of a project by dividing it into different sections.

Fiske asked that they also prepare a design showing what the planned 147-foot-tall building would look like if it were limited to the 97-foot height that would be allowed with a zoning change but without the additional development allowances they’re seeking.

The developers have hired a traffic consultant, whose study concludes the project won’t add to traffic congestion.

And they argued that the planned allotment of 0.47 parking spaces per unit is roughly 20 percent more than they’ve provide in other similar projects around the country and that given the project’s location just a block from the Noyes Purple Line station, it should be more than adequate to meet tenant needs.

The developers have also agreed that residents of the new building would not be eligible to get resident parking stickers for on-street parking in the neighborhood. And they say studies have concluded that existing utility services in the area are sufficient to service the new building.

The project will need City Council approval by at least six of the nine alderman for a zoning change plus several planned development allowances to be constructed as currently planned. Similar recent development projects have typically managed to meet that threshold, often with one vote to spare.

An updated rendering of the 831 Emerson project presented at the library Tuesday night.

One uncertainty around the project, as described by city staff at the meeting, is whether it would fall under the subsidized housing ordinance now under consideration by aldermen that would require developers to provide one unit for low-income residents for every 10 units in a development.

That may depend on how fast the council moves on the so-called inclusionary housing ordinance, and how fast the developers complete their submission of plans for the project to the city.


More coverage of the 831 Emerson project


Average rental rates for the building are expected to range from $1,400 for a studio unit to $3,330 for a three bedroom and would be smaller that typical apartments in Evanston. But the developers say they would be provided fully furnished, included built-in furniture to make more efficient use of the space.

Northwestern University recently announced plans to require all freshman and sophomore students to live on campus, so the project, the developers say, is planned to attract upperclass and graduate students as well recent college graduates.

The project is tentatively scheduled for review at a Design and Project Review committee meeting Nov. 18 and by the Plan Commission on Dec. 9.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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9 Comments

  1. Cleaners

    I thought the dry cleaner moving was a done deal—the owner of the business and/or land wanted out. If so it sounds like the building would come down or be left vacant anyway—the 35 jobs would go away under any arrangement.

  2. Is it reallt student housing they don’t want

    Since students housing already exists on blocks East and West of this site is it student housing they are against or is it really  subsidized housing they don't want?

    1. What is on the east and west sides

      On the west side is really almost a block away on Maple.  It is a high rise and it says for only grad students and family.  I doubt there has ever been a complaint—-every time I go by it seems very calm and in fact I rarely see anyone. They have a large parking lot which I never see full and it fact they seem to rent spaces for moving trucks.  I also think they have underground parking.  If the proposed building is constructed, parking might be available there. Years ago and I'm told has been brought up again, was for multi-story parking garage.  

      On the east are sororities of which I suspect there are few if any complaints of noise—at least I assume women are more reserved than men (?). There are a few apartments on the east side of Sherman that students live in—I don't know if NU owns any of them.  The nearest dorm is on Orrington north of Emerson—Foster Walker.  Students from several generations tell me it is very quiet, as did a friend who owned a house across the street for 30+ years.

      Bottom line is their existence is irrelevant to the matter or really a good example of how responsible students have been in that area. Probably the rent would keep out troublesome students—Evanston Park Place and Evanston Place might be a good comparison since last I heard a number of units are occupied by NU students.

      As for bikes, little is done in the downtown area now as is.  The number of illegal bike riders on Clark would be a much more relevant issue of safety than I suspect than for the proposed building. NU student bike riding on Foster and Noyes streets where they race though intersections [and no lights at night] and riding on the south side of the sidewalk where it is illegal and clearly marked has been an issue for years. 

      1. highrise on Emerson

        Students always ask why permanemt residents choose to live in a "student neighborhood". For the past 20 years residents, the City and Northwestern have been working to educate them about living in a residential neighborhood. Every year we have to start from square one. This was a residential neighborhood before undergrads began living here. This building will charge much more than what students currently pay to live in a house with a yard where they can have cookouts and yard parties. Mixed use, i.e. adults and students together will not work. A friend bought a condo apartment on Foster, and student neighbors were noisy and left garbage in the halls. She finally gave up and left. This project is wrong for all the reasons mentioned by other residents also.

        1. When were there not students living near campus?

          As someone who lived in Evanston in the late 1960s while attending Northwestern, I have to challenge the claim that "this was a residential neighborhood before undergrads began living here."

          What neighborhood are you referring to?

          I recall, among other things, student leaders of the anti-war movement living in old apartment buildings across from what is now Englehart Hall in the 1900 block of Maple Avenue before Englehart was built.

          — Bill

  3. Sky is gonna fall, again

    So ridiculous,  As always, same people, same aldermwoman, same sky is gonna fall in our fragile little neighborhood. Same as it ever was, and with these people, same as it ever will be.  Can't serve a beer with a burger on Noyes, college kids are walking on the sidewalks, lions and tigers and bears, oh my!    

  4. NO resident parking stickers!

    The developers have also agreed that residents of the new building would not be eligible to get resident parking stickers for on-street parking in the neighborhood. 

    I am curious, is there any other neighborhood where lease holders can't get a resident parking sticker? 

    Many thanks

    Manon Kavesky

    1. 1571 Maple

      1571 Maple development, approved earlier this year, is an recent example of a project where the plan is to exclude residents from eligibility for permits in a nearby residential parking district. I'm led to believe that wasn't the first, but don't know specifics about others.

      — Bill

  5. Affordable housing
    This project should be approved in some form.

    One way to make all housing less expensive is to allow developers to build more units, especially cheaper units, such as they wish to do here. This project costs taxpayers nothing; in fact it increases property tax revenue by $830,000 (estimated). These are major benefits.

    Suggestions that it will make the student “problem” worse are very bizarre. If this does cater to students, won’t this just move some students from other Evanston housing to this building? The total of number of students in Evanston is determined by NU… If noise, trash, bikes, etc. are problems, these should be addressed directly. The changes in the past year with regard to bikes has decreased the number of people riding on sidewalks, for example.

    The block as it is now is a blight. The lot is right next to the purple line tracks. This project is appropriate and would be an improvement over status quo

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