Project plan
Project plan

Plans to build 139 units of mixed-income housing on a 4.6 acre parcel on Evanston’s west side ran into criticism from city planners today over how to best tie the parcel into the city’s street grid.

Plans to build 139 units of mixed-income housing on a 4.6 acre parcel on Evanston’s west side ran into criticism from city planners today over how to best tie the parcel into the city’s street grid.

Project plan

Site plan for proposed Cyrus Homes development on Emerson Street.

The property now does not include any through streets, but is bisected diagonally by the former Mayfair railroad spur.

Assistant Community Development Director Carolyn Brzezinski said at the Site Plan and Appearance Review Committee meeting, “What I’m hearing from city consultants and our planning staff is that we want to reinforce the street grid that we have.”

“I love the boulevard” in the middle of the development, she added, but, “why not have it connect all the way through? I think it absolutely needs that kind of connectivity.”

Ron Fleckman, president of Cyrus Homes, the developer of the site, said, “We didn’t want to have this main street used as a potential raceway.” He said that had been a problem with the Robinson bus yard that occupied the former railroad right-of-way, at least until it was fenced off.

“We like the idea of connectivity, making the streets open and friendly, but we want to discourage speedway use,” he added.

Assistant Community Development Director Dennis Marino said that traffic calming devices, like speed bumps, and the “eyes on the street” providing by residents living along the street would help solve the speeding problem, noting that no homes faced the old bus parking lot.

City aerial photo shows how the parcel looked two years ago.
One difficulty in establishing a street grid through the site is that the streets north and south of the parcel don’t align with each other. The city’s Plan Commission is reviewing proposals from planning consultants for new zoning for the old industrial corridor along the railroad right-of-way and those plans are scheduled for debate by the City Council early next year.

Some questions were raised today about the lack of back yards for homes in the development and whether they would be attractive to families with children.

Mr. Fleckman said the site could easily be developed with single family homes with private back yards, “but I don’t know whether the market would accept that.”

Project architect Patrick Fitzgerald said Evanston already has an amply supply of single-family homes.

“What we see in the industry today,” he added, “is that for the first time in history more than 50 percent of Americna families have no children, so there’s an increasing demand for housing for singles and couples without kids.”

“Many of these buyers don’t want to maintain a yard,” he said, “and the way you make townhomes work economically is you take the space that would have been tiny rear yards and aggregate it into common greenspace.”

“I’m not saying that row houses are not a possibility,” Mr. Fitzgerald said, “But you’d be talking a minimum of 2200 square feet plus a yard and detached garage. That becomes very expensive housing in a neighborhood that hasn’t seen a lot of new construction in many years.

Mr. Fleckman said the project will conform to the city’s new inclusionary zoning ordinance and will have affordable units on site.

The project would include condominiums in a five-story building fronting Emerson street that would have underground parking and nearly 10,000 square feet of retail space on the first floor. The development would also include six- and nine-flat buildings fronting Foster Street and and townhomes in the center of the property.

Unit prices, Mr. Fleckman said, will likely range from $200,000 to $500,000.

Brian Barnes, the city’s disability specialist, said the lower priced units could be very beneficial to residents with disabilities, and Cyrus Homes chairman Walter Kihm noted that all the ground-floor units on the six- and nine-flat buildings would be totally accessible, as would units in the elevator-equipped mid-rise building.

The proposed project site includes the city’s small, triangular-shaped Gilbert Park that fronts on Emerson Street. The developers and the city are discussing how the city could be compensated for the park land and whether dedicating the roads and alleys in the project to the city would constitute appropriate compensation.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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1 Comment

  1. Can we trust city staff to represent our best interests?

    I found it silly that we would want to have through streets with speed bumps on them in a development versus a closed and safe road in the development. The speed bumps in this community are a huge waste of taxpayers money and create safety problems for drivers. Our the city staff members serious?

    The bigger issue here is the density of the development versus open space. I have a huge problem with a public park being taken for development and claiming the city is being compensated by alleys.

    Any developer taking a city park anywhere in Evanston needs to return the "public" open space to the community as a replacement park. I would hope our city council members have enough sense to understand this simple concept. There is no value in the affordable housing nonsense or the increase in tax base that is fair compensating for a lost of a public park anywhere in Evanston. Public parks are for the use of all citizens, the alleys are of little value to the public versus the property owners in the development. Why does the city ask property owners to pay 50% for alley repavement? Because the alleys truely only benifit the adjoining owners! Any city staff member who supports giving up a public park for alleys should be fired!

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