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Plan board shoots down condo project

The Evanston Plan Commission, acting with unusual speed, voted unanimously Wednesday to reject a proposed six-story condo project at 1031 Sherman Ave. during its first hearing on the development.

The project, proposed by developer Michael Dalton, called for building 45 condo units on a lot now occupied by a vacant home and an abandoned commercial building.

The neighborhood, just south of Greenleaf Street and west of the Metra tracks, has a mixture of mostly frame two-story homes along with some commercial uses, including the Evanston Lumber Company yard. It is across Sherman Avenue from Nichols Middle School.

The parcel, which runs from Sherman through to the stub end of Custer Avenue, currently is split between the R3 residential zone and the MUE transitional manufacturing employment district.

The developer proposed rezoning the parcel to C1a, a commercial zone that is used along portions of Chicago Avenue, on the other side of the railroad tracks.

Plan Commissioner Johanna Nyden said she attended Nichols School and she was concerned that the development, which would use Custer for auto access, would create a hazard for school children walking along Greenleaf, because sight lines at the Custer-Greenleaf intersection are restricted by the Metra bridge abutment.

Commissioner Charles Staley said he'd driven through the area over the weekend and concluded the project would be "totally out of balance with the rest of the block."

"There's nothing of this height anywhere near," Staley said.

"I'm not anti-development," Staley said, "but I think this is totally inappropriate."

Commissioner David Galloway said he used to live in a coach house on Greenleaf not far from the site.

"When I got the package describing this project," Galloway said, "I just about fell off my chair."

"It's so out of character and out of scale in an area that represents some of the finest and most quaint examples of story-and-a-half to two-story wood frame structures in town," he added.

Commission Chairman James Woods said the proposed C1a zoning was totally inappropriate because it would permit large scale commercial uses, even though this project does not include commercial space.

"It seems to me that some sort of rezoning, even up-zoning from R3 might be appropriate, but we need to have a substantial setback from the street" which the proposal doesn't provide, Woods said.

Several neighbors also voiced opposition to the project, including Abby Brennan of 1043 Sherman who called the proposal "an insult to the city and a waste of all of our time."

David Adams of 1042 Custer said the project would leave him in the dubious position of having his street turned into somebody else's driveway.

The development did draw some praise from Commissioner Coleen Burrus, for placing more than half of its parking spaces underground and proposing to pave the now-unpaved Custer Street, which she said amounted to "a serious public benefit."

And Woods noted that the developer proposed to include several units of affordable housing in the building.

But in the end those benefits didn't outweigh the commissioners' concerns about height and density.

The developer's attorney, Dan Shapiro, asked that the commission not postpone its vote. The proposal now moves to the City Council for a final decision.

Records at the County Recorder of Deeds office show that Dalton bought the property for $1.2 million two years ago.

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