Kiera Kelly speaking at a DAPR meeting in 2019.

Three residents criticized the height of a proposed new downtown Evanston office tower during a Design and Project Review Committee meeting Wednesday afternoon.

Kiera Kelly of 2436 Orrington Ave. said the building should be much shorter — somewhere between four and 12 stories.

However, an illustration presented by the developers shows four other buildings of roughly the same height as the proposed 19-story office tower within about a block of the proposed site at 601 Davis St.

The developers have claimed that with two transit stops nearby, many of the anticipated 950 ofifce workers at the planned building would take public transit or bike to work, reducing the need for parking in the building.

But Kelly said, “This is the suburbs” and most “suburbs are not set up for public transportation” — predicting a very high percentage of workers arriving from outside Evanston would drive.

Lori Keenan of 2214 Colfax St. said the design of the proposed building is unsightly and “twice as high as it’s supposed to be.”

“I don’t know why you have to give away the charm of our community,” Keenan said.

Linda Del Bosque of 1110 Grove St. said, “This is such a big project. I don’t think Evanstson is ready for it.”

Del Bosque claimed there are a lot of vacancies in the nearby 20-story 1603 Orrington office tower, although the building is listed as being 93.1% leased.

Kerry Dickson.

Kerry Dickson of Vermilion Development said the overall office vacancy rate in Evanston is now 5% — less than half the vacancy rate in downtown Chicago, which has experienced a recent building boom.

“Evanston is a desirable place to have an office,” Dickson said, “and it’s been 20 years since a new office building was built in downtown Evanston.”

Johanna Leonard, Scott Mangum and Jessica Hyink of the city staff.

City staff raised a range of technical questions about the plans — from the placement of trees along the sidewalk to the location of the water service — as well as critiquing details of the building’s design.

In addition, Community Development Director Johanna Leonard said that the developer’s offer to lease 78 parking spaces in a city-owned garage for one year, in addition to providing 40 spaces on site, wasn’t sufficient.

The developer needed to agree to a longer-term lease and to lease additional spaces, she said.

Dickson said, “We don’t have any concern about providing whatever the parking need is.”

But he said he wanted to avoid having to pay for too many spaces during the initial lease-up period for the property and then wanted to be able to periodically recalibrate how many spaces were actually needed once the building was fully occupied.

“It’s less to do with the length of the commitment and more to get the right number,” he said.

With the city staff workday running out at 5 p.m., the committee voted to continue discussion of the project at DAPR’s next meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 4.

After it completes DAPR review, the project will be evaluated by the city’s Plan Commission before seeking final approval from the City Council.

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Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. >”suburbs aren’t set up for

    >”suburbs aren’t set up for public transportation”

    Evanston isn’t like other suburbs.  It’s very well-served by transit.

    To the degree it’s not better served, the reasons are that there we haven’t allowed office density to increase, and the zoning committees continues to require more parking spaces than the market dictates. 

    The solution to Ms. Kelly’s complaint, to the degree it has any validity whatsoever, is to require developers to create fewer parking spaces, not more.  And allow the increased density to support additional east-west transit options.  

    Meanwhile, we’re nearing climate-change crisis point.  We can’t keep arguing against density in downtowns.

  2. Different year, same script

    At this point Bill, you can probably just copy & paste resident comments from past articles when reporting on these meetings. 

    If the market didn’t support this height, the developer wouldn’t shoulder the financial risk of building it – there goes your “it’s too tall” argument.

    “This is the suburbs” – technically true, but this is actually Evanston. Evanston is unique in that it’s one of the most transit-connected suburbs in the nation, and one of the finest examples of dense suburban downtowns in America. This is exactly the kind of development that should be going up with our incredible transit connectivity. Nothing about this project is out of place.

    Bring on the office workers, bring on the tax revenue, and bring on the economic lift for our downtown businesses. This is a no-brainer.  

  3. I think Evanston has pretty

    I think Evanston has pretty solid transit — 2 train lines and 6 bus lines converge to a couple blocks from this proposed tower.  If people are worried about traffic, we should limit the number of parking spaces, rather than requiring they build more.  

  4. Parking and six zoning variances requested

    About parking. My point was that Evanston is a suburb and some workers may be driving in from other suburbs, which are not set up for public transportation TO Evanston (the way that they might be to downtown Chicago.) The city put expected drivers at about 35%, much higher than Vermillion’s estimates for which San Francisco was used as a comparison city. The city countered that the 40 onsite spaces +70 spaces rented for a year would not cover drivers among the 950 workers estimated to be there.

    It’s not only height but that the developer is asking for six variances to our zoning code (a lot!) and that DAPR should uphold our code and demand that projects meet them or not receive a positive recommendation. Otherwise, zone-breaking towers and developments are used as precedents, and sizes of high rises become modified by developers.  I actually complimented and advocated for the 12 story height and materials (brick exterior) of another office building included by Vermillion in the city packet info.

    More than height, the developer is breaking code on the FAR well beyond the 8 to 12, creating a much larger building. They are also breaking the ziggurat code (a set back after 3 stories so the bulk of the building is not a sheer wall above) making the building larger and eliminates the intention – ensuring a human-scale pedestrian experience. That also would match the human scale buildings across the street.

    1. Variances

      While the zoning code sets a variety of guidelines for the dimensions of buildings that vary by zone, the zoning code itself also provides a process for granting variances from those dimensions, which are frequently granted for projects both large and small

      Variances may or may not be “excessive” in a given case — and, under the zoning code, it’s ultimately up to the City Council (or in some cases the Zoning Board of Appeals) to decide whether to approve those variances.

      When people say “follow the zoning code” — and mean “don’t grant any variances” — they’re not actually asking that the zoning code be followed.

      — Bill

    2. Yes, the other suburbs have

      Yes, the other suburbs have public transportation to downtown Evanston. Pace 250 and 208 go west, Metra and Pace 213 go to northern suburbs. Pace is currently working on speeding up service along Dempster for the 250. Also, many of those arriving by car will be doing so by TNC (transportation network companies — like Uber and Lyft) and won’t need a parking space. Of course TNCs create their own problem as they tend to obstruct bike lanes. This is a big problem on Church Street, and hopefully the city will find a way to make it so it doesn’t become a big problem on Davis Street too.

    3. DAPR

      Virtually every new building, whether a residential home, a single story commercial or a 90 story commercial, are all likely to ask for and require variance, it’s simply part of the process.  To say that any proposal is “breaking” code or that 6 variance request is “a lot” that DAPR should “uphold our code and demand that projects meet them or not receive a positive recommendation” is incorrect about both the process and purpose of DAPR.

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