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Redesign in works for condos on theater site

Developers of a proposed condo complex on the site of the shuttered Evanston Theaters have promised to come back to the Plan Commission with a revised design for the project next month.
At a hearing last week Plan Commissioners suggested some changes are needed to the planned development at 1700-1722 Central St.
Commissioner Alice Rebechini said the design for the proposed five-story, 55-unit building is charming. "The renderings are just wonderful," she said.
"But I agree with the comments of residents that the parking solution is very forced and awkward. The loading area is impossible and serves the retail space very poorly," she added.
She also said the proposed 26-foot deep retail spaces on the first floor seemed too shallow.
"If you look at what can be balanced in the design, I don’t see a lot of merit in preserving the house," Ms. Rebechini said, referring to the Victorian cottage adjacent to the theater building that the developers had proposed to restore.
"I’m less concerned about the height" which neighbors had objected to. "The courtyard and setbacks and eased corners help a lot. I see room for leeway there," she added.
Commissioner James Woods said he agreed that loading, parking and the depth of the retail space were key problems with the design. But he said, "the massing and architectural detail of the building are of very high quality and I appreciate that enormously."
Commissioner Coleen Burrus said, "The design is fabulous and works very well on Central Street. I don’t have any issue with the height." But she added that since neighbors had not voiced concern about preserving the house, the developer might choose to take out the house to reduce the overall height of the project.
Commissioner Stuart Opdycke said, "I love the design; I think it’s really spectacular. "I’d hate to lose the little house, but if that’s the price we’ve got to pay for having the project reduced by a story, OK."
Mr. Opdycke also suggested removing proposed planters along the sidewalk to make it easier for crowds from Northwestern football games to make their way up and down the street.
Commission Chairman Albert Hunter said he was concerned about parking, the depth of the retail space and the building’s height and massing.
He said it would be nice to have the cottage preserved, "but I see that as a ‘precious luxury.’ I’m not sure it’s warranted, given the concerns of the city as a whole."
He said he would prefer see what he called "social preservation" by the inclusion of affordable housing in the project, rather than the physical preservation of the old house.
The developers’ attorney, David Reifman, said the developers are considering revisions to all the issues the commissioners raised, but said he believed adding underground parking to solve the parking and retail space problems would be "highly unlikely if not impossible" because of the cost.
About 16 residents spoke in opposition to various aspects of the project at last week’s hearing, which was the third session the Plan Commission has held on the project. The next hearing is scheduled for Oct. 11.
Related links
Thumbs up and down for theater condos – Aug. 10
Hearing set on theater replacement – July 11

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