Evanston’s Zoning Board of Appeals Tuesday night approved plans for an apartment development on Central Street after neighbors who had opposed initial plans for the project said they favored a revised proposal.

The two-story Highlands on Central development will provide six accessible two-bedroom apartments on the first floor and six adaptable two-bedroom apartments on the second floor.

Developers Dan and Bill Schermerhorn said that if the ZBA didn’t approve the 12-unit project, their only viable alternative would be to build nine two-and-a half-story townhomes on the site.

That, they said, would be permitted by the zoning code without requiring ZBA approval of any variations, but would be out of character with the modest-scale single family homes and small apartments in the immediate neighborhood.

The Schermerhorns also argued that the accessible and adaptable units would meet a growing need in the community for housing that would let residents age in place.

Sigrid Pilgrim.

Sigrid Pilgrim, who lives at 2750 Bernard Place about a half mile from the development site at 3233-3249 Central St,, said the project would offer long-time residents like her and her husband an opportunity to remain in the area if they can no longer live in their current home.

“I can’t see how 12 two-bedroom units would be more of a density burden than nine three-bedroom townhouses,” Pilgrim said.

A rendering of the proposed development at 3233-49 Central St.

Kathy Leoni of 3253 Central St., next door to the project said she’d been vehemently opposed to the 14-unit plans but that after attending a meeting with the developers held at Lovelace Park she feels quite strongly that the 12-unit proposal is the best for the neighbors and the neighborhood.

She said the nine-unit townhouse alternative would provide very little greenspace around the homes, but the 12-unit plan provides a 25-foot greenspace buffer between the new development and her house.

Sue Loellbach.

The only objection to the plan during public comment came from Sue Loellbach of Connections for the Homeless, who argued that the developer should be required to provide an affordable unit on site, rather than making, as allowed under the city’s inclusionary housing ordinance, a $75,000 contribution to the affordable housing fund instead.

But Dan Schermerhorn said the project couldn’t get bank financing if an on-site affordable unit were included.

ZBA Chair Mary Beth Berns said she wanted to ensure that as many as possible of the first floor units would actually be rented by people who have mobility limitations.

The developers have designed the project to make it easy to adjust countertop heights in a range between 30 and 36 inches. But at Berns’ suggestion the board conditioned approval of the development on having the counters in the first floor units installed at the lower height.

That way, she suggested, the units would be less likely to appeal to persons without disabilities.

The developers agreed to that condition, but their architect, Eileen Schoeb of OKW Architects, noted that, depending on the nature of their disability, many people with mobility issues may prefer the higher countertop height.

Related stories

Panel backs accessible apartments on Central (4/5/18)

Plans revised for accessible units on Central (4/2/18)

How zoning can make affordability difficult (2/21/18)

ZBA to review development plan on Central (2/19/18)

Larger apartments planned on Central Street site (8/4/16)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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