Carroll Place Developer Robert King last night offered to rework his plans after several Plan Commission members sharply criticized his proposed 19-story, 170 unit condo project at 1881 Oak Ave.

In turn, the commissioners scheduled a special meeting to consider zoning for the site and other parcels along Emerson Street at the north end of the city’s Research Park.

“The zoning for this area has clearly become irrelevant,” Commissioner Alice Rebechini said.

The area was developed over the past 20 years, mostly with low-rise office buildings, which now have extremely high vacancy rates.

“It’s dead as originally planned,” Commissioner Lawrence Widmayer said. “The building to the east (at 1890 Maple Ave.) is empty. The building to the west (at 1880 Oak Ave.) is 40 or 50 percent vacant.”

The Carroll Place parcel has been a vacant lot for two decades. Developers have announced plans to replace the office building at 1890 Maple with a 10-story Residence Inn hotel.

“These problems are in part the result of restrictions placed on tax appeals in the development process. As a result, these buildings carry higher property tax rates per square foot than any other office buildings in town,” Mr. Widmayer said.

What we’re looking at,” he added, “is developing a mini-plan about what framework we want to have for this immediate area.”

“I don’t think we’re saying that the concepts of residential condominiums or a hotel are wrong. What we’re struggling with is the bulk and height and that this is on the edge of the downtown area rather than the middle of it.”

The commission scheduled the special meeting for 8 a.m., Tuesday, Feb. 7.

Mr. King had argued that his project was comparable to high-rises already constructed elsewhere downtown – some of which are as much as 28 stories tall.

Commission Chairman Albert Hunter said, “What I’m concerned about here is that immediately to the north is a residential area of single family homes. If you turn your gaze northward, this project is very much out of context. If you turn south, then it is in context.”

“Over the past several years this commission has been very sensitive to the notion of transitions – making a transition to lower height and lower density, Mr. Hunter added.

In testimony before the commission, James Torvik of 212 Dempster St., speaking for the archecture group Design Evanston, called the project “too dense and too tall for the site.”

“The building is massive, especially at the base,” Mr. Torvik said, “The pedestrian experience will be very unpleasant.”

Commissioner Douglas Doetsch said, “I think it’s clear this is not what we want the area to look like. It looks like something transplanted from Miami. It’s completely out of character directly across the street from a neighborhood of two-story homes.”

Commissioner James Woods said the building “lacks architecural quality and significant public spaces. It lacks elegance and is out of character with the area.”

The commission is scheduled to consider Mr. King’s revised plans for Carroll Place when it meets at 7 p.m., Wednesday, March 8.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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