Neighbors freaked out this spring about plans to build new five story apartment buildings on Emerson Street between Wesley and Jackson avenues, and that's led Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, to call for downzoning the area.
When the Plan Commission takes up the proposal, it should reject it -- at least for the properties that actually front on Emerson.
The original proposal from developer John Domanus called for building 44 two-bedroom condominium units. Under the city's inclusionary housing ordinance, it would have yielded $900,000 for the city's affordable housing fund plus $70,000 more for affordable housing from the demolition tax.
A rendering of the building proposed for the 1400 block of Emerson Street.
Prices for the new units weren't specified. But based on current listing prices for two-bedroom condos for sale in the immediate area, one could estimate a sale price for the proposed condo units, which were to average 1,550 square feet, of around $465,000 each, or about $300 per square foot.
Under the current R5 zoning, five-story building are permitted on the block.
If the neighbors get their wish, and the area is downzoned to R3, then only one and two-family homes would be allowed.
So, let's take a look at what's being built in R3 zones in Evanston today.
A rendering of a two-family home planned for 2106 Darrow Ave. and single-family homes on either side.
Developer Arkady Kats is seeking $747,000 for each of the 2,736 square foot, four-bedroom, five-bath attached homes he's planning to build on a lot at 2106 Darrow Ave., in an R3 zone just north of the existing home at 2102 Darrow just purchased by Police Chief Demitrous Cook.
Maybe Kats won't get quite what he's asking, but Recorder of Deeds records show he did get $660,000 each for the somewhat similar pair of homes with 2,705 square feet and two-and-a-half baths he built a couple of years ago at 1939-1941 Wesley Ave.
The homes at 1939-1941 Wesley Ave. (Google Maps)
Or there's the pair of large duplexes now under construction in an R3 zone at 1110-1116 Pitner Ave.
1110-1116 Pitner Ave., part of the former Anton's Greenhouse site.
No listing price on those properties in an R3 zone yet, but they're big, so it's unlikely they'll be cheap.
And each of these projects is too small to trigger the inclusionary housing ordinance requirements for on-site affordable housing or a fee-in-lieu contribution to the affordable housing fund.
So, you could have at the Emerson-Jackson site 44 new households in condos prices around $465,000 each plus $900,000 for the city's affordable housing program, or perhaps 12 new households in duplexes priced around $700,000 each.
Which comes closer to being affordable housing?
Which brings the most new residents to the 5th Ward -- an area that needs more residents to support the commercial development, like a new supermarket, that residents say they want?
And, for the tract with the second lowest median household income among Evanston's 18 cenus tracts, adding more middle income residents would also help provide the economic basis to support more commercial activity.
Of course there's another potential outcome if the Emerson property is downzoned.
Domanus says he'd offered the current owners an average of $400,000 for each building lot. Now that he's pulled out in the face of the neighbors' opposition, the current property owners have the land back on the market at an average price of $500,000 per lot.
Lots sold for redevelopment for townhouses will likely only bring a small fraction of those prices, and the current owners may decide to keep running their existing sad-looking rental properties.
1413 Emerson St.
That would please people who oppose all change in the community, but it's hardly in the best interest of the neighborhood as a whole.
The properties on the 1900 block of Wesley north of the alley have for the most part shifted from rentals to owner-occupied homes in recent years. It may make sense to downzone those properties to R3, if that's what the homeowners really want.
The properties on the 1900 block of Jackson north of the alley are still mostly rentals and there the case for downzoning seems less clear.
But on Emerson, a heavily-traveled street which already has some mid-rise and high-rise development, downzoning would only stifle an opportunity to bring new residents and vitality to the 5th Ward.
Elsewhere in Evanston, notably along sections of Ridge Avenue and Chicago Avenue, mid-rise and higher apartment and condominium buildings co-exist with single family homes across an alley. They could do so on this section of Emerson as well.
Alderman to seek Emerson rezoning (5/9/19)
Neighbors attack Emerson apartment plans (3/29/19)
44 condo units proposed on near west side (11/29/18)