Evanston’s Plan Commission voted 7-0 Wednesday night to recommend that the City Council reject plans for a 33-story apartment tower at 601 Davis St.

Commissioners said they believed the building was too tall for the site and wouldn’t provide sufficiant parking.

A model of downtown presented by developers showing the 601 Davis building at center.

During public comment the project won support from Jack Weiss, a leader of Design Evanston, who praised the proposal for preserving the century-old, two-story University Building.

Jack Weiss.

He said part of the tower site had been a vacant lot for 30 years — and that if the city rejected the proposal it might stay vacant for another 30 years.

Weiss, who’s also an associate member of the Preservation Commission, said the site is appropriate for a high-rise development and that the project would help meet the city’s goal of having a compact and walkable downtown.

Prudence Moylan.

Prudence Moylan of the Society of St. Vincent DePaul, praised Vermilion Development’s plan to advance the city’s affordable housing goals by providing a $1.5 million fund to be administered by the non-profit that would provide supportive services to families at risk of homelessness and help them move to economic sustainability.

Chris Botti.

And Chris Botti, owner of Botti Studios, said he liked the the project for its proposal to include art on the building’s facade and its provision of money to help the homeless.

“I think it’s all positive,” Botti said. “Cities have to change or die. I would like to see this thing go through.”

But several other speakers voiced opposition to the plan.

Hank Goldman.

Hank Goldman, of 807 Davis St., voiced doubts that there was sufficient demand for the new apartments and said that, based on parking demand at Sherman Plaza, where he lives, the proposal for 176 parking spaces for 318 apartments at 601 Davis was totally insufficient.

Sarah Vanderwicken.

Sarah Vanderwicken of Interfaith Action argued against the proposed housing aid to be administered through the St. Vincent DePaul group, saying the funds should be used to build new affordable housing units instead.

Ivan Hall.

And Ivan Hall, of 610 Dempster St., said Evanston is quickly losing its character and “with all the tall buildings in the pipeline, it will be unlivable.”

Plan Commissioner Colby Lewis said he agreed with Botti that the city has to change and that high-density housing is appropriate downtown.

He said the proposed height of the building was dictated largely by the desire to preserve the University Building and that the developers shouldn’t be penalized for that.

But he said the overall scope of the allowances being requested for parking and density “seems extreme to me, more than I would be comfortable with.”

Commissioner Terri Dubin said she was concerned about increased traffic on Davis Street from the development, arguing that it would hurt retail businesses by forcing customers to park two blocks away in the Sherman Plaza garage.

Jim Ford.

Plan Commission Chair Jim Ford said that, in the context of the 2009 Downtown Plan, if the proposed development was just one block west — on the Fountain Square block — “I would love it.”

But, he said, the project sits on an edge of the downtown and the intent of the plan clearly was to transition down from a tall central core to the lower rest of the city.

The 601 Davis proposal next moves on to review by the City Council, which will make a final decision on the project.

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Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Pleasant surprise
    Someone actually made the connection between parking and business. Not enough parking and no one drives downtown! So then the remaining businesses just come and go after failing because there will NEVER be enough downtown carless people to sustain any viable businesses. Guess what? When Target opens with a CVS pharmacy inside, the current CVS will close a few months later. No need for both. And so another exchange one business for another. That’s why you need a plan. A real plan. We have a very nice new car. We don’t drive downtown to shop. No one does. The few thousand “walking” residents (trapped consumers is that the plan???) can’t keep that area viable. Adapt? Absolutely. Streets have to be OPEN navigable, and have ABUNDENT PARKING free to Evanston residents. That’s a plan. Or do what you’re doing. And watch the downtown implode.

    1. density and business
      There are plenty of examples in American cities where there is high density, terrible parking, and conjested traffic, yet retail businesses are sustained. The Lakeview neighborhood in Chicago is one of many examples. A much less extreme example is Edgewater. If those neighborhoods were able to build up vertically and keep retail business going, then why can’t Evanston do the same?

    2. CVS and McDonalds

      CVS on Sherman. When Sherman Plaza was to be built, Osco was suppose to move back in when completed so they leased a small store [never opened] by old theater. Later the Plaza said they would not let Osco back in. I think CVS built their store [size] assuming the returning Osco would be large and thus CVS would build the smaller store. Joke on us [via the Plaza buildings and city not protecting Osco.

      McDonalds was suppose to move back to where the Farmhouse is now after the  Orrington remodeled but then Orrington said no.

      Lesson–don’t trust [re-]devlopers.  How many businesses ‘Close for Remodelling” but never re-open.

      1. CVS bought some Osco stores

        CVS bought a lot of Oscos free standing stores (this store may have been considered free standing)

  2. Lots of crazy going around in E-Town

    I keep getting mixed messages from our elite liberal leaders in Evanston. On one hand they say they want a “greener” Evanston and more affordable housing but on the other hand they shoot down an organic cafe and a downtown highrise with less parking, which means less cars, which means less pollution, which means more walking and use of mass tranportation. 

    Evanston politicians three years ago voted unanimously to adopt an Evanston Livability Plan, which aims to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent. The Council then banned plastic bags and created a new six-figure position and hired a sustainabilty programs coordinator to meet the city’s lofty climate action plan in the People’s Republic of Evanston.  

    I did not know that more highrises in downtown Evanston makes the city unlivable. How so?

    Another complainer who has a condo in Sherman Plaza says there’s not enough parking. My guess is he opposes the plan because it might block views to the east.

    And lo and behold we have a someone from the Interfaith Action Group opposing the developer’s plan to fund “$1.5 million to be administered by the non-profit St. Vincent DePaul Group that would provide supportive services to families at risk of homelessness and help them move to economic sustainability.” Why would she oppose this generous plan? Hmmm…

    Lots of crazy going around in E-Town.

    1. Why can Lakeview make it?
      Why can Lakeview make it? Gosh I don’t know. Could it be WRIGLEY FIELD and a plethora of DRINKING ESTABLISHMENTS? Would all of you who love love love living and walking in downtown Evanston want about 15 or 20 places to imbibe spirits? Fine with me BUT the city fathers nixed a Hooters which would have been VERY popular, produce revenue, and easy for all of you to walk. Hey utilize those well heeled older students and open 10 sports bars. But that’s not the right “image” for Evanston. How about 10,000 multi unit low income buildings like many Chicago neighborhoods. Sound good? Change up the demographics. Oh wait, who’s going to build and pay for them? You see, it’s mostly homes that exist within 3 or 4 blocks of downtown Evanston where 1 to 4 people live in their $500,000 to $1M+ homes. HOMES not multi unit buildings housing 20 or more people. Oh and those homes. They all have BMWs, Mercedes, Audis etc. Sitting in their driveways. Cars they use to LEAVE Evanston to do their real shopping: Old Orchard etc. But hey, build those highrises. No need to actually look at demographics, density, income, and oh hey: here’s a thought: have our overpaid overstaffed town officials do professional surveys of CURRENT downtown residents to see where they shop (Old Orchard, Amazon….and if new residents do Amazon….well gosh THAT won’t help downtown businesses at all….etc.) Urban development has to analyze and balance trends and understand future goals. “Guessing” uh “Lakeview makes it” isn’t a plan. It isn’t even well thought out. And just approving highrises because the mayor and city council have had clueless leaders for DECADES and are now throwing a “Hail Mary” revenue scam isn’t a plan either. That’s called desperation. But again, hey: go for it. The track record for the last thirty years (losing Marshall Fields, Baskins, Washington National) by those same city leaders has been BRILLIANT. Name a few more city buildings and parks after them. Continue ignoring codes, development plans (oh yeah….which they PAID for with our money); praise them for underfunding pension funds for decades in the GOOD TIMES and generally ignoring their elected responsibilities. See good government is possible with good people. And then there’s Evanston. So have a nice walk around downtown. I won’t see you cause I’ll be driving somewhere else in a brand new car I bought somewhere else. And yeah I’d sell this condo but prices in this “premium” suburb are still depressed. My Lakeview nephew just made $100000 on his condo bought about the same time as mine (same price). Lakeview is where people want to live, shop, party. Evanston is where they go to sleep. Again: enjoy that walk.

      1. Character of Downtown Evanston

        I think you hit the nail on the head with your comments on the types of businesses that do well in dense neighborhoods and the demographic that is attracted to dense neighborhoods.  If we want Evanston to be an affluent bedroom community then high density development is a mistake.  I do not think that is what the city council wants.  It does indeed want to build subsidized housing to attract so that Evanston is accessible to low to moderate income people.

        You make a fair point about Lakeview being a party scene but there are other dense neighborhoods which are not party destinations that work as well. 

        It is also not clear whether Evanston could compete as a car-centric suburban town with lots of parking and wide roads to shopping centers even if it wanted to go that way.

        Leveraging the mass transit access and already somewhat dense infrasture in downtown Evanston is not for everyone, but it’s not such a crazy irresponsible goal.  I do however agree that the city council needs to be more clear on its plan.  Saying they want green, high density, affordable, etc downtown without acknowledging what they are willing to give up (traffic, parking) has resulted in inconsistent actions.

        Unfortunately, we should not expect any such articulation of trade-offs because the Evanston electorate is divided on what it wants.  Every big real-estate development is going to be a fight for the forseeable futre.

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