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The excitement over the possibility of a Trader Joe’s grocery store coming to Evanston galvanized City Council members into approving changes to the planned development ordinance governing the project proposed for 1890 Maple Ave., at Emerson Street. Developer Robert King of Carroll Properties proposes a 14-story mixed-use high-rise rental building for the site.

Timing and Trader Joe’s

At the July 14 City Council meeting, Mike Deegan, a representative of IDS, the real estate representative of Trader Joe’s, said the company would set up a Trader Joe’s in that project. In addition, David Reifman of DLA Piper, attorney for the developer, said Trader Joe’s had signed a letter of intent in late June, indicating they would establish a grocery store in the 1890 Maple Ave. development.

A question remains, however, as to when that might be. On Aug. 11 City Council gave the project a two-year deferral in its construction start-time, until October of 2010. Allison Mochizuki, director of national publicity for Trader Joe’s, told the RoundTable on Aug. 18, “As of today, Evanston, Illinois, is not in our two-year plan.”

Gregg Gaines, a colleage of Mr. Reifman’s at DLA Piper, told the RoundTable he believes Trader Joe’s has “every intention to build on this site. … All we have to do is start construction by October of 2010, and maybe the construction time is why [an Evanston Trader Joe’s] is not in the two-year plan.”

Mr. Gaines said he had seen the letter of intent but would not discuss its terms except to say that it required expanded curb cuts on Emerson Street and “exposure from the street.” He said DLA Piper was hired only as the “zoning attorney” but added, “Trader Joe’s is negotiating and finalizing the final lease agreeement.”

The PUDs

The first planned development approved by City Council granted zoning relief for height and parking allowances. Under that agreement, Mr. King also agreed to pay $150,000 as a public benefit to the City, to be used for upgrading and re-timing the traffic lights along Emerson Street between Ridge and Maple avenues.

At the July 14 meeting, the developer requested a curb-cut on Emerson Street to accommodate the Trader Joe’s customer and freight traffic. At the July 28 meeting, the developer said he had reduced the retail space from 40,000 square feet to 15,000 square feet; added two apartments, bringing the total to 154; and added sufficient parking to meet the City’s 249-space requirement for the project.

The new proposal calls for a curb-cut on Emerson Street for entry to the project, and the elimination of two metered parking spaces, for which the developer will pay the City $4,500 annually.

Eric Russell of KLOA Traffic Consultants, whom the developer hired to conduct a traffic study, said the grocery store and apartments would generate about 50 additional trips per day during the morning rush period. He said there would be no significant difference during the peak evening period.

Because of the expected increased traffic and the width of the trucks – up to 62 feet – City traffic experts also recommended relocating the curbs on University Place in the rear of the development. Other proposed changes include eliminating the free parking on both sides of Emerson Street between Ridge and Maple avenues, possibly adding metered parking on the south side and eliminating parking altogether on the north side. The Parking Committee may address these issues.

During citizen comment at the Aug. 11 City Council meeting, Lorraine Posner, who said she lives nearby and walks to many places in the downtown area, asked that aldermen not approve the project. “It is not well thought-out,” she said.

“The downtown plan talks about ‘walkability,’ but with this plan there is too much traffic on Emerson for safe walking and there is not enough parking [in the project to accommodate Trader Joe’s patrons]. You were about to reject the building before the magic words ‘Trader Joe’s’ were uttered.”

Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, who has consistently opposed the project, voted against the measure. He said he had not seen the letter of intent and “It is not binding, anyway,” and added, “I have objected to this project in terms of scope and location. … It is not the correct project for this place,” he said.