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Neighbors said to fear ‘transient academics’

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Plans for an extended stay hotel in downtown Evanston are drawing fears from some that it will attract the wrong kind of academics as guests.

The Southeast Evanston Association, in an email message to its members, says neighbors need to assure that the establishment will carry "a hotel brand that will maintain a high quality of business, and not devolve into cheap housing for transient academics."

The hotel project is proposed for a vacant lot at 1515 Chicago Ave. that formerly housed a 1950s vintage one-story colonial-revival-style building that was the home of Heil & Heil insurance until that company moved to Skokie.

The site in 2006, the year Preservation Commission members concluded it had little architectural merit.

The project will be the subject of a public meeting sponsored by the city's Community Development Department at 7 p.m. Wedneday, Feb. 5, in the community meeting room at the Evanston Public Library downtown.

The developer is proposing an eight-story building with 116 rooms and 35 open parking spaces. The property is part of the city's D4 or "downtown transition" zoning district, which permits a building height of 85 feet, or up to 145 feet under certain conditions.

Neighbors in mid-rise buildings on the block, who have long had clear views out their windows over the site, have worked for years to block development plans for the property.

In 2006 the site was proposed as part of an 18-story mixed-use retail, office and condominium project on the southeast corner of Chicago Avenue and Davis Street called Optima Promenade, which city officials ultimately rejected amid strong opposition from neighbors.

The following year a smaller condo project was proposed for just the 1515 Chicago Ave. site, but that plan never got off the ground.

More recently a representative of the trust that owns the property complained that city officials were pressuring him to propose what he considered a financially-unfeasible office development for the site.

That was at a time when the city thought it could also spark development of a multi-story office building at the Chicago Avenue and Main Street intersection, a project that has since been scaled back to contain just one floor of offices.

In its email, the Southeast Evanston Association also voices concern about possible heavy use of the alley adjacent to the building and increased traffic around the site.

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