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home : city news August 22, 2017

8/9/2017 5:13:00 PM
Residents Object to Proposed Sherman Avenue Development
By Matt Simonette

Chicago-based Albion Residential is proposing to construct a 16-story building, containing 287 residential units and 9,616 square feet of retail space just south of downtown at 1450-1508 Sherman Ave. The ambitious but controversial project was conditionally approved by the City’s Design and Project Review Committee on Aug. 3 and was scheduled to be reviewed by the City’s Plan Commission on Aug. 9, after this paper went to press. A group of residents told the RoundTable about some objections they had to the project. 

In April, Albion’s John Prescott told Curbed Chicago website that the units “will appeal primarily to singles and couples who want to live close to transit to give them access to Chicago without driving into the city. They also want retail, restaurants and entertainment that Evanston offers within walking distance.”

One local resident objecting to the project, Keira Kelly, told the RoundTable that Albion’s project could potentially “transform one of the few human-scale blocks in downtown Evanston that is now home to independent restaurants and storefronts. … Many people feel the Albion project is a tipping point of an accumulation of developer-driven high rises of luxury micro units that are transforming the face of historic downtown Evanston, without public buy-in.”

Ms. Kelly said she was part of “an organically-formed group [that] is made up of concerned citizens who were taken aback by the size and scale of the Albion Residential project.”

Albion is seeking a number of zoning allowances for the project, according to City records. The company wants to offer 287 units in the complex, but only 105 units are allowed by code; and it has proposed a building height of 192 feet where 105 feet are allowed. The proposed complex would have 185 parking spaces, where code would require 389 spaces for a 287-unit building. The building would be 16 stories and contain 9,616 sq. feet of commercial space.

Objectors to the project say they do not see how the benefits of the project would outweigh the concessions the City would have to make for it to be completed as currently envisioned. In a letter from Evanston architect Greg Williams to Community Development Director Johanna Leonard forwarded by Ms. Kelly, Mr. Williams said, “The gross excesses beyond the zoning parameters foment this citizen consternation, ‘Why do we even have zoning guidelines if they are not followed?’”

Records also show that among the several benefits the developers are promising in exchange for zoning relief are a $50,000 contribution to the City for capital improvement for landscaping and park revitalization; a maintenance program for Harper Park, which is across the street from the site; a publicly accessible pocket park on the site’s southern end; a $50,000 contribution for public art and a lighting program; a CTA/Metra viaduct reconstruction; and a $60,000 contribution towards a Divvy Bike Share Station. The developers also promise two on-site affordable studio apartments to be rented to individuals at 60% of the Area Median Income and to meet Inclusionary Housing Ordinance requirements with a fee-in-lieu payment of $2.9 million.

Ms. Kelly said numerous studies have discredited a widely-accepted notion that such a development would lead to lower taxes, and added that the scale of the project is inconsistent with Evanston’s 2009 Development Plan.

That inconsistency is indeed noted in the Albion memo delivered to City officials, which says, “This site is designated as South Traditional subarea which calls for mixed-use development with heights between 3 to 5 stories to keep a walkable commercial stretch for this section of the Downtown. The overall height of the proposed development is well above this suggested height, [but] it does provide a building mass consisting of a three-story masonry base to more closely match adjacent buildings and the residential portion is [set back] for a significant amount of the development site, lessening the effects of the height at the Sherman Avenue property line. The Downtown Plan also highlighted the need to maintain a compact, walkable mixed-use transit oriented character while promoting sustainable development that can be an economic engine, which staff believes the proposed development will provide.”

“The City now says [the Development Plan] is a ‘guiding document,’” said Ms. Kelly. “So we ask that at minimum, the City agree with the intention of this block as a true transitional one and not grant extra zoning variances.”

She also said that the units would be prohibitively expensive, adding, “We have to think about if the City’s focus on developing for a high-end demographic may run counter to our goal of remaining a diverse community. [Furthermore] payment into the affordable housing fund doesn’t go far. The City recently bought two units of housing at nearly $300,000 each. So, what seems like a lot of money might only translate into 10 units. Also, increasing ‘luxury’ rentals may be raising the overall rental market, as we have seen in so many neighborhoods in Chicago. Is it smart to cheer on such development before we know what the result might be?”

Ms. Kelly and her allies in the community had been asking for the City to issue a continuance for the Aug. 9 meeting. She added that the City should reject the project as a “planned development” because it would not have a high threshold of public benefits, standards and general conditions.

“Albion, and other high rises before it, do not really seem to be adding meaningful public benefits to make this trade of zoning allowances,” said Ms. Kelly, who also called on the City not to issue the allowances. “It would be better for Albion to re-design this building to be five stories, [which is] considered human scale and still allows sun to shine on the street [and] to be varied in heights and facades.” 

The project’s detractors are also asking for a wind and solar study, as well as an occupancy-rate study.

“A north-south building with long east and west faces suffers the worst possible solar orientation,” said Mr. Williams in his letter. “These long flat glass and silver-panel walls will be essentially huge mirrors in the full-on low-angle morning and afternoon sunlight, absorbing great heat and reflecting light as a blinding nuisance to neighbors. This building orientation is a particular LEED deficit.”

Ms. Kelly said, “We believe this block has a great opportunity to be re-imagined and even developed in a ‘human scale’ way, which is still three to five stories, like in Bethesda Row, Maryland, with a pleasing and vibrant block of varied architecture, pleasing and sunny outdoor cafes and independent businesses with character. This block of Sherman Avenue can be a natural extension of the new Fountain Square and can be developed to be an appealing and vibrant place that will attract people to shop, linger and enjoy Evanston.”

Full details of the project can be viewed

Reader Comments

Posted: Saturday, August 19, 2017
Comment by: Jean SmilingCoyote

I agree with all the objections to this project. I am not in a good position to examine and consider the previous comments in enough detail. Basically I object to making any "zoning allowances." I think many jurisdictions should put a moratorium on these. Typically, developers ask for a bigger footprint, a taller building, smaller setbacks, and more dwelling units than current zoning allows. They want to stuff more building and more people onto a lot than the jurisdiction thinks is sensible. I reserve my respect for developers who accept the existing zoning and work entirely within them.

Posted: Thursday, August 10, 2017
Comment by: James Prescott, President of Prescott Group LLC

Editor: On behalf of Albion Residential, I am contacting you in connection with the story posted at 5:19 p.m. Aug. 9, “Residents Object to Proposed Sherman Avenue Development.” We have no record of anyone from Evanston Roundtable attempting to contact Albion for comment, which would have given us the opportunity to correct numerous misstatements of fact made in the story by those who oppose the project.

While we have no objection to those who have concerns about the project or opinions on what Albion has proposed, we only ask that they — and outlets that cover their views — do so using factual information.

On that note, I’d like to point out the following:

Albion memo:
The story references an Albion memo to the City. (“That inconsistency is indeed noted in the Albion memo delivered to City officials…”). There is no such memo from Albion to the City. Perhaps it is a memo from Ms. Kelly and/or others opposed to the project.

As-of-right vs. Albion proposal comparison:
The story includes the following paragraph: "Albion is seeking a number of zoning allowances for the project, according to City records. The company wants to offer 287 units in the complex, but only 105 units are allowed by code and it has proposed a building height of 192 feet where 105 feet are allowed. The proposed complex would have 185 parking spaces, where code would require 389 spaces for a 287-unit building. The building would be 16 stories and contain 9,616 sq. feet of commercial space.”

The facts regarding as-of-right vs Albion proposal are as follows:
• Total units: as of right 93/proposed 287
• Total bedrooms*: 326/346
• Parking stalls: 186/182
• Parking stalls per unit: 2.0x/0.63x
• Height per zoning:**: 145’/167’
• FAR: 6.0/6.9
• MLA: 400/130
• Average unit size***: 2100sf/726sf
• Projected residential occupants****: 372/394
(*total as of right bedroom count based on 3.5 average bedrooms per unit)
(**proposed height includes parking height reduction)
(***average unit size based on FAR and MLA calculations)
(****projected occupants as of right calculated at 4 people per unit)

We also did not have an opportunity share with you the following facts, which would have rebutted the opinions opponents shared with you, such as:

Project revisions:
• Reduced unit count to 287 from 298
• Moved garage entrance to alley from Sherman
• Increased parking stall county to 182 from 172
• Added 2 affordable units at 60 percent average medium income
• Proposed one-way northbound alley to avoid vehicle/pedestrian conflict at Lake Street
• Added traffic calming measures in the alley at Lake Street and Grove Avenue
• Increased alley width to 16 feet where feasible
• Incorporate LEED Credit 55 by using bird-friendly building materials
• Designed a more modern based with enhanced storefront glass and metal panels that complement the tower above
• Designed a translucent exterior faηade on parking floors 2/3 that imitate active use on Sherman
• Redesigned structural aesthetic to incude four structural columns as opposed to two
• Implemented blade signage on Sherman for building and commercial tenants
• Added a four-season public art piece/sculpture in the pocket park
• Revised route to interior bike room to include recumbent bikes and those with larger turning radius
• Added a plan for residential/commercial loading and a 15-minute loading zone on Sherman
Traffic Analysis:
• Accessibility to/from the development is enhanced by the various alternative modes of transportation serving the area, including Metra, CTA/Purple Line, bus transit, bicycle and pedestrian amenities
• All development-generated traffic can be accommodated without significant impact to the external street system
• Based on Census tract data, occupancy surveys of existing parking garages in the area, the proposed parking ratio is consistent with the residential and vehicle ownership characteristics of the area
Fiscal Impact:
• 14 school-aged children or fewer are likely to reside at the development
• Generate estimated $557,100 in annual property tax revenue for District 65 and District 202
• Will not have an adverse impact on police/fire department or public works resources
• Albion will be responsible for site remediation costs (+/-$400,000) and obtaining IL EPA approval
• +/-$90 million economic impact/investment
• Generate +/-$945,000 in annual property tax revenue plus annual sale tax revenue from commercial tenants
• Generate +/-$1 million in fees to City of Evanston during construction, stabilization and occupancy
• Create 520 jobs in construction, service/commercial, building maintenance/operations
• No request for TIF or tax abatement assistance
Public Benefits (affordability):
• Contribute $2.9 million to City of Evanston Affordable Housing Fund
• Include 2 affordable units
• Waive move-in fees for top 10 employers in Evanston
Public Benefits (parks):
• Publicly accessible pocket park that includes outdoor seating, public art, nighttime lighting
• Contribution of $50,000 for improvements and landscaping for nearby parks
• Include Harper Park in ongoing pocket park maintenance
Public Benefits (art):
• Working with Jennifer Lasik, Evanston Cultural Arts Coordinator to contribute $50,000 for public art, including a four-season sculpture in the pocket park
• Light program on Sherman, chandelier in residential lobby, Evanston photography throughout development interior
• Public art curated by an Evanston artist, if possible
Public Benefits (Lake Street viaduct):
• Coordinate with City of Evanston, CTA and Metra to ensure viaduct is restored current Evanston/CTA/Metra program does not include Lake Street viaduct
• Budget $100,000 for updated lighting and paint (two cycles of improvements)
Public Benefits (transit):
• 15-dock Divvy station
• 2 car-sharing stalls with GM vehicles
• Divvy and car-sharing passes for development residents who don’t bring a car to the development
• Real-time transit information screens with train and bus schedules, Uber, Lyft, Divvy and car-sharing information
Public Benefits (ETHS Workshops):
• Coordinate with ETHS to conduct workshops for students interested in construction, engineering, architecture, horticulture
Public Benefits (sustainability):
• Obtain LEED Silver certification (or higher)
• Comply with LEED Credit 55
• Designated green roofs
• Stormwater retention
• Albion’s Live Well Campaign
Public Benefits (community outreach):
• Work with YWCA on an affordable housing program and other initiatives
• Collaborate and support Evanston Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Evanston and community groups to improve the local economy and benefit the community
If you have any questions or would like to discuss these and other aspects of Albion’s proposal, please let me know.

Thank you,:
James Prescott
Prescott Group LLC

Posted: Thursday, August 10, 2017
Comment by: Jonathan Lee

There's a typo in the URL here. It's:

or more simply:


Posted: Thursday, August 10, 2017
Comment by: Margaret Lo

Can Ms. Kelly provide links to the studies confirming her position. Where may we view Evanston's financial analysis of this project?

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