Revised plans for a 15-story residential high rise at 1621 Chicago Ave. drew a negative recommendation from Evanston’s Land Use Commission Wednesday night.

But the 4-5 vote against the plan was a substantial improvement over the 0-7 vote the LUC gave to a previous, 18-story version of the project last fall.

Grace Imathiu.

In heated testimony to the panel, the Rev. Grace Imathiu, senior pastor of 1st United Methodist Church, called the project “blasphemous” and claimed it would lead to more traffic congestion in the alley that separates the church from the building site.

Other opponents repeated objections they’d raised to the project in previous appearances before the commission.

The plan did draw support from speakers concerned that the city needs more downtown residents to replace the office workers now working from home who patronized the district’s businesses before the pandemic.

In commission deliberation, Commissioner George Halik said, “I think this project needs to happen because Evanston needs it.” Now, he said, there are too many empty storefronts and too few people on the street.

But Commissioner Kristine Westerberg said the building, with 140 apartments, was too tall for its downtown transitional zoning district.

“Its a very handsome building,” she said, “but I do think the height is too much.”

The project now goes to the City Council, which can accept or reject that Land Use Commission recommendation.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Is it possible to build this type of structure on an existing vacant lot versus destroying more of our rapidly disappearing single story original structures?

    1. Hi JR,
      Sure — if there’s a vacant lot available, if there’s a developer interested in building on it, if there’s financing available, if the zoning permits it and if the city will approve the project.

      Given the high retail vacancy rate downtown there’s not much demand for “single story original structures.” And those structures aren’t “original” anyway.

      From 1894 to 1945 the property was the site of the four-story Hotel Monnett and its adjoining cafeteria. A 1920 Sanborn Fire Insurance map available online from the Library of Congress shows it. You can also find a picture of the hotel and a lengthy bio of its owner here.

      One of the one-story buildings that replaced the hotel was originally a Jewel Tea grocery story.

      — Bill

      1. Thanks Bill. I didn’t literally mean only one story structures, and totally agree, there is little to no demand for retail space in Evanston these days. I am referring to developers destroying functioning buildings such as Nevins pub in order to build a large apartment building. That has happened countless times over the years that I have lived here. It has truly changed the character of Evanston, and not for the better in my view. Wilmette seems to be thriving despite having a very architecturally quant “original “ downtown.

          1. Actually not horrified because scale and proximity to their downtown core seems practical and logical. I do like repurposed old bank buildings though. I don’t consider most of Green Bay Road architecturally significant or appealing really (at least in Evanston and some parts of it north) so replacing what was there with what some (not me) may view as an attractive building seems to make sense. I support the new apartment project on Green Bay Road in Evanston that you’ve written about. In that case, it will be an improvement over what is there now in my view. I do understand comparisons to Wilmette are far from apples to apples.

            Back to my original comment on building on vacant lots, if all the conditions you lay out for building on them could be met, my thought is that doing so may support growth in our City while preserving some character. Thats all.

            Thanks for the dialogue!!

  2. We just cannot get out of the way of ourselves. We are the most unwelcoming suburb in Chicago for new development. Our downtown is going down the tubes. All of our small businesses are suffering, This council has no clue.

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