518-526 Davis

Evanston Plan Commission members split Wednesday over whether a two-story building on Davis Street should be down zoned to block its redevelopment.

518-526 Davis

The building at 518-526 Davis St. was recently purchased by Ted Mavrakis, who also owns the Fountain Square building at 1601 Sherman Ave.

Under current D4 zoning a mixed-use building on the site could rise as high as 145 feet with parking allowances.

The draft downtown plan would reduce that to a maximum of 10 stories, making it part of what’s called the East Edge zone.

But some commissioners, who like the 1920s vintage building’s limestone facade, proposed adding it to the nearby South Traditional Zone, which would cut the maximum height to 5 stories.

Commissioner Robin Schuldenfrei said “it would create a nice transition” into the traditional zone.

But Commissioner Charles Staley said the reduction would be out of character because the property is just across the street from the eight-story North Shore Hotel and just west of the nine-story 500 Davis Street building.

Commission Vice Chair Stuart Opdycke said he likes the existing building, but asked, “Are you going to tell the owner that the most he can put up there is three stories or maybe five” with bonuses?

Commissioner Colleen Burrus said that would be more height that is there now. But Staley said “basically you’re using a traditional zone to landmark his building.”

Commissioner Johanna Nyden said the city should think about preserving traditional elements of its public space “and not necessarily think about every last building owner.”

Commissioner Larry Widmayer said other areas proposed for traditional zoning are generally zoned to lower height levels now. He said extending such zoning to areas that currently have much higher base limits would break that pattern.

The commissioners failed to reach agreement on how to handle the parcel and decided to postpone a decision on it to a later meeting — what Opdycke described as a “high noon session” on unresolved issues.

The next Plan Commission meeting on the downtown plan is scheduled for March 12.

The commissioners did decide to leave a set of landmarked apartment building on the east side of Ridge Avenue between Church and Davis Streets in the proposed West Edge zone rather than move them into the plan’s West Traditional zone.

The switch would have reduced the maximum height allowed from 10 stories to five. But it also would have required commercial uses on the ground floor of any new structures built on the site, a change the commissioners agreed would not be desirable.

The parcels are currently zoned R6, which permits a maximum height of 85 feet.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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7 Comments

  1. What is different about
    What is different about 518-526 Davis and 1881 Oak or 1890 Maple?
    Is the east edge of downtown different from the north edge?
    Does location make a difference?

  2. Fountain Square
    So this guy owns the Fountain Square building? I say, let him build on this Davis St. site – give him an extra 10 floors – on the condition that he tear down that ugly Fountain Square Building. That would be a Public Benefit.

    My guess is that the activists will rally to save this building, though. They are opposed to all new construction.

  3. Fountain Square
    I am writing to comment on Mr. Anonymous’ comment about the Fountain Square building. I happen to think the Fountain Square building is a good piece of architecture. Perhaps not an award winner, but certainly a good building; a thousand times better than the god-awful mothership across the street known as Sherman Plaza. It’s built of limestone (that’s real stone) and is a very clean modern design; not, like the mothership, which was economically realized with painted concrete. The Fountain Square building’s architect followed International style’s classic sensibility, whereas Sherman Plaza offers no design sensibility at all; merely a hodgepodge of masses, colors and materials meant to disguise the architect’s regrettable lack of design sense. I don’t know who designed the Fountain Square building or who the developer was, but hats off to these people who didn’t sell out to the bottom line. A deep bow to their integrity. It’s shameful that the owner in the mid-90’s allowed the original granite at the base of the building to be removed and the facade bastardized by a restaurant that lasted about a year.

    In closing, it’s particularly unfortunate how the City has ignored Fountain Square (not the building, but the fountain park), letting it, like everything else operated by the City, slip into disrepair. Evidently the maintenance plan is managed by the same person who is responsible for the Civic Center. Which brings to mind the question: Just how long does the City allow private property owners to keep scaffolding in place rather than addressing potentially dangerous building problems? Isn’t there an ordinance that limits this to six months. Convenient, but shameful, that the City can exempt itself.

    p.s. I am not an activist rallying to save the building. I just recognize the fact that the developer of the mothership and adjacent garage is the same developer that will be developing the new tower. Clearly, this is a developer who has little value , recognition or understanding of good architecture. Too bad for Evanston.

    1. Fountain Square fountain maintenance
      Several months ago I referred to the pedestrian surface of the fountain plaza as The Museum of Patching Materials. I had counted at least 8 different types of caulks, fillers, tinted grouts, mortars, and cements, in apparent repeated well-intended but unsuccessful effort to stem the ongoing deterioriation caused by the sunken design. Since then the City coated the entire bottom level in what appears to be black asphalt — grossly out of kilter aesthetically with the rest of the fountain materials, but at least functional. I hope and don’t think that that’s intended as permanent; I believe that the plaza is now out for bid for substantial renovation, to be completed before Memorial Day.

      “Strange women lying in ponds, distributing swords, is no basis for a system of government.”

    2. Fountain Square building’s charmless utility
      I have to respectfully disagree with the above praise for the existing Fountain Square building. Looking up at it from Chandler’s or the 1603 Orrington plaza, I’ve always had the feeling that a Soviet icebreaker has detoured down Sherman Avenue and plowed to a stop. What fans of the International style call clean and modern, others see as an expression of cold, brutal hostility toward a town square that should be a welcoming public space. Interrupting the line from the fountain plaza to the Hahn building and 708 Church with a block of looming stone, 1950s pictures show it as out of place when built, and if it is less so today, that is only because the intersection now offers competition for Ugliest Building. The subject of exterior cleanup a few years ago, the building quickly resumed dripping sad stains from around its windows. To me, it has architectural significance primarily as a midcentury curiosity, raising the question, “What were they thinking?”

      So those who assume that “activists” want to save every building are wrong. Purely from a subjective aesthetic preference, apart from any other considerations, I would keep it as is only to honor George Santayana’s maxim; otherwise, I’d be happy to see the building gone, and replaced with the Fountain Square plaza extension shown in the initial plans for the 708 Church shaft-tower. From an urban planning perspective, however, I have to concur with those who point out that the building, whether liked or despised, currently serves an important purpose in providing relatively affordable office space, a commodity in short supply in downtown Evanston. Turning it into plaza would displace numerous businesses and workers who add to the economy, and would also knock a valuable property off the tax rolls. The suggestion that the City fund that out of TIF funds adds injury to injury. These are non-trivial considerations that must factor into any decision on 708 Church.

      1. Well – when I said that the
        Well – when I said that the activists will probably rally to preserve the building, I was referring to the low-rise strip on Davis. I say let the owner put something new there.

        I didn’t think that anyone in Evanston, even our anti-progress activists, seriously wanted to preserve the Fountain Square Building. I was surprised to see that even this building has a fan-club.

        You are right Jeff, it does add to the tax-rolls – so despite its ugliness, it serves a purpose. So let’s have Mr. Mavrakis put up an office building on the Davis site to replace these offices. Make it profitable for him – give him a few extra floors, or variances, or whatever – just to get rid of that Fountain Square ugliness.

        Then after the new building is up – down goes Fountain Square!! Extend the plaza, or build a new office building there, or whatever.

  4. Das Vidania E-Town
    Perhaps just being known as the Peoples Republic of Evanston isn’t good enough—I guess we want to emulate the finest of Soviet era 3rd world architecture as well—You don’t know how lucky you are, boy
    Back in the US
    Back in the US
    Back in the USSR

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