A planned development for 831 Emerson St. received a favorable recommendation from Evanston’s Design and Project Review Committee this afternoon — but with the caveat that the building should be an unspecified amount shorter than the currently proposed 14 stories.

Plans for the building, proposed as a joint venture of Focus Development and CA Ventures, currently call 287 furnished apartment units targeted largely to students.

The units, Tim Anderson of Focus Development told the committee, would be about 50 percent smaller that typical apartments in town — averaging 650 square feet in size, compared to an average of 869 square feet at the most recently completed Focus project in Evanston, at 1717 Ridge Ave.

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But the building would still have a variety of unit sizes — ranging from studio to three-bedroom units.

About two dozen neighbors turned out for the meeting, and some offered complaints about the project.

While the developers pointed to 10- and 11-story buildings just east and west of the property to justify the height requested, neighbors argued that the building should be no taller than the seven-story building across the street to the south or the five-story building to the north.

A scale model of the neighborhood prepared by the developer as viewed from the north. The proposed new building at 831 Emerson is highlighted.

One speaker said he believed the project should be rejected because it would be used for money laundering by the Chinese government.

That theory apparently was sparked by news last February that CA Student Living, a subsidiary of CA Ventures, had entered a joint venture with Wanxiang America Real Estate Group, a subsidiary of a Chinese auto parts manufacturer, to buy six student housing development sites in communities ranging from Tuscaloosa, Ala. to Boca Raton, Fla.

Anderson denied that any Chinese entities would have a role in the Evanston project.

Tom Kerwin.

Project architect Tom Kerwin showed examples of materials planned for use on the building, but he and Anderson agreed with committee members that the choice of material colors for the building needs more work.

Community Development Director Mark Muenzer said staff had sent the developer a lengthy letter listing dozens of issues that need to be addressed before the next community meeting on the project, scheduled for 7 p.m. Dec. 1 at the Evanston Public Library.

Community Development Director Mark Muenzer.

Anderson said he’s willing to sign a covenant that would require that the builidng remain on the tax rolls in perpetuity — even if it were sold to a non-profit entity — and that he’s willing to lease spaces in the city’s Maple Avenue parking garage to supplement the parking available on site.

A rendering of the project seen on a committee member’s computer.

The development is tentatively scheduled for review by the city’s Plan Commission at 7 p.m. on Dec. 9. Muenzer said the commission’s review is likely to take two months, meaning the proposal would most likely reach the City Council, which makes the final decision, early in February.

At the current height and density requested by the developers, the project would require support from six of the council’s nine aldermen to win approval.


More coverage of the 831 Emerson project


Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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