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Optima Promenade plan draws cheers and jeers

The proposed Optima Promenade planned development at 1515 Chicago Ave. drew strong support at a Plan Commission hearing Wednesday from the Chamber of Commerce and Design Evanston.

But neighbors opposed to the 18-story project objected that it would eliminate views from older condominium buildings nearby and voiced fears it would depress prices for their units.

The proposed Optima Promenade planned development at 1515 Chicago Ave. drew strong support at a Plan Commission hearing Wednesday from the Chamber of Commerce and Design Evanston.

But neighbors opposed to the 18-story project objected that it would eliminate views from older condominium buildings nearby and voiced fears it would depress prices for their units.

View from the northwest of a model of the Optima Promenade project. (Optima photo)

James Torvik of Design Evanston said the Optima proposal is “an excellent example of a fine downtown building” that likely will be recognized “far beyond our city’s border.”

He called it “a unique and dynamic addition to Chicago Avenue.”

“The building massing is highly sophisticated, carefully composed, interesting, even alluring,” Mr. Torvik, an architect who lives at 212 Dempster St., said.

He said Design Evanston is an ad hoc group of architects and other design professionals that was asked to review the Optima project by the city and the developer.

Jonathan Perman, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, said the mixed-use retail, office and residential condo project’s height and floor area ratio fully comply with the zoning for the site.

He said the development would attract more diners and shoppers to downtown.

“You’ll hear critics say that Evanston has grown too much,” Mr. Perman said, “but we have four to five thousand fewer people than we did at our population peak. This city can handle another 175 units.”

He said Evanston’s schools need more funds and the Promenade project would generate $1.6 million a year in new school tax revenue.

“Most cities have to lure great architects with incentives and commissions,” Mr. Perman said, “we’ve had David Hovey generating award-winning designs here in Evanston” for the past 20 years.

But neighbor Chris Westerberg of 525 Grove St. said many of the units in her building only have windows facing north, and those living below the fifth floor would only have views of the new building’s parking garage.

She also objected to the placement of the tallest portion of the Promenade at the south end of the site, near her building.

Optima representatives said that decision had been made to lessen the height at the north and west sides of the site, which creates more setback from Davis Street and Chicago Avenue. They also said that because of the orientation of the sun, the new building would not cast shadows on its neighbor to the south.

David Hornthal, who lives in the Optima Towers development a block west at 1580 Sherman Ave., said a dozen units in that building have a view of Lake Michigan that would be blocked by the new structure. He voiced fears those units would lose value.

Gene Thiele, president of the condominium board at 1500 Hinman Ave., said drivers emerging from the alley behind his building often honk their horns. He said he worried increased traffic in the alley from the new development would lead to more horn-honking, especially late at night.

The developer’s traffic consultant responded that even at rush-hour peaks, he anticipates no more than 25 additional vehicles per hour exiting the alley onto Grove.

The four-hour hearing ended with neighbors still posing questions to the development team. The neighbors will get a chance to present their full arguments against the project when the hearing continues at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 5.

More coverage
Photo gallery
Optima Promenade up for debate March 1
Daily Northwestern – Evanston residents still debating value of planned condos

Related links
Evanston Chamber of Commerce
Optima, Inc.
Evanston Zoning Matters, with 1515 Chicago Ave. message board
Evanston Plan Commission

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