A rendering shows the proposed Legacy Evanston, 1621-1631 Chicago Ave. Credit: supplies
The Evanston Land Use Commission voted 7-0 on Wednesday not to recommend the City Council move ahead on the long-gestating and highly contentious Legacy Evanston mixed-use proposal for 1621-31 Chicago Ave.
While commissioners praised the intentions and scope of the project, now proceeding through its second application processall said it did not belong at that particular part of Chicago Avenue, which is zoned to signify a transition between downtown and single family homes on the opposite side of the block.
“If this building was located on the opposite side of Chicago Avenue, I think it would be more keeping in character,” said Matt Rodgers, the commission’s chair.
The proposal now goes to a final vote from the Evanston City Council – though just before the commission’s vote, the developers, Chicago-based Horizon Realty Group, asked for a continuance to consider comments from the commission and the public.
The commissioners decided to hold their vote and then let the developers decide whether to rework the proposal prior to the City Council vote or file a new application.
Legacy Evanston is currently envisioned as an 18-story mixed-used residential building with 7,159 square feet of ground floor commercial space, according to city records. The building would feature 180 dwelling units, 18 of which would be deemed affordable housing, and 57 parking spaces. The building would be slightly taller than 195 feet.
Horizon would privately finance the venture. The company purchased The Merion at 1611 Chicago Ave. in 2012 and owns and operates about 2,400 units throughout the Chicago area.
Early in the meeting, Horizon Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Michael said that the project would take the current location from “functional obsolescence” to being a “crown jewel” for downtown Evanston.
He noted that affordable housing is a high priority for the city, and suggested that approving Legacy would let the city “put their money where their mouth is, with affordable housing in a great location.”
Evanston’s affordable housing rules allowed Horizon to expand the number of units envisioned for the building, which in turn allowed it to cover various sunken costs, Michael said. Initially planned with 128 units, Horizon dedicated 10% – 13 units – as affordable. The city allows developers to add four additional units for each affordable unit they offer. Thus, Horizon could add 52 more units for a total of 180.
Plans show the location, in red, of the proposed Legacy Evanston, 1621-1631 Chicago Ave. Credit: supplies
Numerous zoning variances would be needed for the Legacy’s height and number of dwelling units and parking spaces, among other matters. The proposal has drawn criticism from numerous First Ward residents, among them First Ward City Council Member Clare Kelly, who has been especially vocal about the venture. Kelly attended the Sept. 14 meeting but did not address the commission.
Evanston resident Robert Froetscher said, “Every developer that follows, wanting to build their own 18-story building on this block, would point to this building as a precedent.”
The Rev. Grace Imathiu of First United Methodist Church, said, “The developers know that they don’t meet the standard. Great project, wrong location.”
Residents also cited potential problems with traffic and deliveries as among their concerns. Horizon’s initial proposal called for a 28-story building, but Commissioner Kristine Westerberg said that, even at the currently proposed 18 stories, “it still seems like it stands out” at the location.
“Generally, I believe that this particular project is too dense and too tall,” added Commissioner Jeanne Lindwall.
Should Horizon continue with its proposal, it will go before the City Council within the next 60 days.