Speakers at a 1st Ward meeting Tuesday night — primed to oppose a planned high-rise development at 831 Emerson St. — found another reason to object to it when the developers acknowledged they plan to target Northwestern University students as tenants.

About 100 people turned out for the meeting at the Evanston Public Library.

One speaker, Sara Stewart, said students walking around the neighborhood late at night are very noisy.

“There’s a very limited amount of land in Evanston, especially downtown near the lake. Bringing in students is taking needed land away from adults that live in the community,” Stewart said.

Another resident argued for a buiding on the site “that benefits our community. Let the students live on campus,” she said.

A similar view of the site today from Google Maps.

The proposed project is a collaboration between Focus Development of Northfield and Chicago-based CA Ventures.

Focus has built several projects in Evanston, including Sherman Plaza, Church Street Station and 1717 Ridge Ave. downtown as well as buildings at 811 Chicago Ave. and 1300 Central St.

CA Ventures Student Living unit owns student housing developments at the University of Illinois and Southern Illinois University as well as in Chicago’s South Loop and at other locations around the country.

The development would be the first in Evanston specifically targeted to the student market, although several existing buildings have a high proportion of students as tenants.

The plan for the project calls for 100 studio units, 63 one-bedroom units, 76 two-bedroom units and 58 three-bedroom units. Sizes would range from 350 square feet for studios to 1,075 square feet for the three-bedroom units.

The units are considerably smaller than in developments targeted to a more mature audience, and the developers said most units would be offered fully furnished.

Architect Thomas Kerwin and Focus Development Director Justin Pelej with a model of the neighborhood.

Roughly 3,000 square feet of retail space would be included in the development, which Justin Pelej of Focus said he hopes will become a new location for the 7-Eleven store that’s now on the property.

Kerwin points to the planned 831 Emerson building on the model of the neighborhood.

Thomas Kerwin, principal of bKL Architecture, said the building would have three major sections — an nine story one to the east — matching the height of the neighboring Perlman Apartments at 1900 Sherman Ave., rising to a 14-story section at the west — the same height as the closest portion of the E2 development a block to the west.

Community Development Director Mark Muenzer and Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, listening to comments.

One resident said the development “would be lovely on the Gold Coast” but the traffic problems and added people it would bring to Evanston make it “horrific, ludicrous.”

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said the city’s downtown plan treated Emerson Street as the boundary between downtown and the residential neighborhood to the north. “I think generally people agree that this [the north side of Emerson] is not the location for a building of this height,” Fiske said.

The site is on the dividing line between the 1st Ward and the city’s 2nd and 5th Wards. Aldermen from those wards attended the meeting but did not speak.

Residents at the 1st Ward meeting.

The developers propose having 136 parking spaces on site, including nine surface spaces adjacent to the CTA tracks for retail customers. They also plan to provide 81 off-site leased spaces, probably in the city’s Maple Avenue garage.

Several residents said they believe that’s not enough parking. One said it would mean the Maple Avenue garage would be too full to have spaces available when she has friends come to visit her.

Fiske said she hopes to hold another public meeting to get comments on the plan before the project starts the formal city review process.

Community Development Director Mark Muenzer said that formal review will begin with a meeting of the city’s Design and Project Review Committee, followed by review by the Plan Commission, which makes a recommendation to the City Council, which has final authority to approve the planned development.

More coverage of the 831 Emerson project

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Heavens to Betsy

    Heavens to Betsy … not dreaded Students!  Next thing they will be targeting those Transient Academics again!

  2. Surprise, Surprise !

    Same NIMBY response we have come to expect in Evanston to anything proposed. Next ploy will be having the dry cleaner declared a national treasure by the 1800s [as in living in that century] Preservationist Society.

  3. Earplugs

    Yes students are noisy- and they litter. Sometimes after graduation they leave town and never come back! I guess they don't love Evanston quite enough.

    Thank goodness we have the nimbys and their super-acute hearing to make sure that land next to rail lines is underutilized.

    Seriously– all those people were at that meeting and the arguements mentioned in this article amount to no rational objection? I can only suppose most folks there were curious and now think as I do:

    Highest and best use should be our new city motto!

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