An aerial view of downtown, altered to show the Merion Legacy across Chicago Avenue from the 24-story Park Evanston tower.

Evanston’s Plan Commission voted 4-2 Wednesday night to recommend that the City Council not approve plans for a 17-story senior-living high-rise development at 1621 Chicago Ave.

The commission majority concluded that the project, though reduced by two stories from the initial planned development request, was still too tall for the site.

The developer, Horizon Realty Group, argued that the building’s 185-foot height would fit within the zoning code if they had included four floors of above-ground parking in the project, instead of the two floors of underground parking that they have proposed.

The D4 transition zone for the site has a base height limit of 105 feet and offers an additional 40 feet as development allowances for planned developments. It also excludes from the building height calculation up to four floors devoted to parking.

The City Council also has the discretion under the code to exceed those height limits with a two-thirds vote of the aldermen.

Carl Klein.

Several speakers at the commission hearing objected to the height of the planned building, including Carl Klein, who argued it would overshadow the nearby First United Methodist Church at 516 Church St.

Brian Johnson

Commissioner Brian Johnson, who voted in favor of the project, said that while it may be incongruent to have fairly dense commercial development in a spot very close to residential zoning, some of the residents who live nearby do so precisely because they can so easily walk to the bank and to Whole Foods.

Georg Halik.

However, Commissioner George Halik said the building wouldn’t provide enough of a step-down in height toward the adjacent residential areas to the east.

Looking north on Chicago Avenue,, with the proposed Merion Legacy building at the center.

And Commission Chair Peter Isaac said that to meet the floor area ratio requirements of the zoning code the project would have to be a skinnier building.

Jeff Michael.

In a statement issued this morning, Horizon’s chief operating officer, Jeff Michael, said, “We are generally pleased with the outcome at the Plan Commission.”

He said it had appeared during the discussion that commissioners were hoping to find additional support for the project by adding a call for more affordable housing to their recommendation, something the city’s legal staff said was outside the commission’s purview.

Jonathan Perman, a consultant to Horizon, said the company is working on “a new public benefit plan” that will allow developers “to leverage an additional infusion of financing to build or rehabilitate lots of affordable housing faster.”

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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