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By a 7-2 vote, the Planning and Development Committee approved the newest iteration of the residential tower proposed for 708 Church St. The development team of Tim Anderson (Focus Development) and James Klutznick and architect Larry Booth presented a new proposal for a mixed-use tower that would be 345 feet high, “excluding any floor of parking allowable to be excluded,” according to the amended ordinance. The City’s zoning code allows up to 85 feet to be excluded from the total height of a building if those floors are used for parking. Thus the total height of the building could be approximately 430 feet. The proposal has 218 condominium units and 271 off-street parking spaces (about 125 fewer than presently required by the City’s zoning ordinance). The developers are also requesting an increase in floor-area ratio (FAR), the ratio of the building area as compared to the lot size. The City code defines floor-are ratio as “the numerical value obtained by dividing the gross floor area by the lot area.” The code allows from 4.5 up to 8.0 FAR for this area, said City attorney Ken Cox. The developers are requesting a 4.5 FAR. In return, the developers promise to contribute $1 million to the City to be used in the rehab of Fountain Square and $880,000 to the City’s affordable housing fund – the amount mandated by City ordinance. They also say they hope to obtain silver LEED certification (a rank of sustainability awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council). They project the development will bring about $22 million in tax-increment financing (TIF) revenues to the City before the TIF expires in 2018. Mr. Anderson said their proposed timeline is to “start to make pre-sales in 2010, begin construction in 2011.” Demolition of the 708 Church Street building will not begin until sufficient financing is in place to begin construction, he said. Amendments to the ordinance, approved unanimously by the aldermen at the Planning and Development Committee, include extending the streetscape all the way to Davis Street on both Sherman and Orrington Avenues, a penalty for not obtaining the LEED certification, a payment in perpetuity for the parking spaces – estimated presently at four – that would be lost if the project were approved, and a restriction with the development that the property cannot be sold to a tax-exempt entity as long as the special use is in effect, unless the purchaser pays the full amount of property tax to every taxing body. In addition, businesses that relocate during construction will have the right to lease space in the new building. Citizen Comment Some speakers urged the Council to reject the proposal, saying it was not the right proposal for the time or the place. Others urged that the vote be deferred until the next Council has been sworn in. Still others said they supported the proposal and said they hoped Council would approve it, saying that doing so would send a message of optimism in this near-depression economy. Mark Sloane, a candidate for alderman, suggested that the Council require a performance bond, “so no one will get hurt.” He also said, “I think you’re doing a disservice to the developer by taking a vote. I’m concerned that you’re lame-ducking something that you shouldn’t be.” He said if he were elected alderman, he would ask his colleagues to revisit many of the decisions made in the past six months. Emily Gall, who said she spoke for nearly 100 persons who live across the street from the proposed project and “are all horrified by this,” said, “Please either vote against it or delay it until the next Council [is seated].” Beth Steffan said, “The developers are looking at the dark side of the moon – they don’t know what the future is. You [the aldermen] are living in a bubble that has passed. We are facing a new economy and not one of us knows … when it will come back, what the tax situation will be and what public benefits would be beneficial. … The developers are taking a risk – that’s hopeful.” She said she was also concerned about who would be able to afford the new condominiums, particularly if banks and lending institutions were to require substantial down payments. “We have a new paradigm,” she said; “Why not wait for a new Council?” James Wolinski, retired community development director for the City, said “Evanston is evolving” and may no longer be wholly “quaint,” but it has a mix of landmark buildings and high-rises. “Another 200 condos will add to downtown Evanston,” he said. Muffy McAuley, who with her husband, John Leineweber, has rehabbed dilapidated office buildings into live-work lofts in the community, said there are many “hubs of economic activity” in the outlying areas from downtown, but they are hurting. “They are driven by the economy downtown. “Is Evanston open for business? I don’t think we can afford to put the brakes on this.” She added that she “applauds you all for your courage to see beyond ‘quaint’ to ‘fusion.” Dan Kelch, owner of Lulu’s restaurant, said he has two children in the District 65 public schools. “The only way you can increase revenues for school districts is to increase the property tax base. What you do here has an impact on the financial well-being of school districts and the welfare of our children.” Jonathan Perman, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, said he felt the proposal “presents relatively little risk to the City … [particularly] if you put in guarantees to see that we don’t have a hole in the ground.” Aldermanic Discussion All the aldermen except Steven Bernstein, 4th Ward, explained their votes. He may have tipped his hand, though, when he said to the development team, “I want to get something out of this deal [for the City]. Hopefully, you’re going to get a lot of money, and hopefully, we can share it with you.” Alderman Anjana Hansen, 9th Ward, said she had come to the meeting undecided. She said she had voted in favor of a central core, “because I think height should be in the downtown only, not in the neighborhoods.” She also said the developers’ promised contribution to Fountain Square is “meaningful. … If the developers don’t sell enough condos to make it work, then what do we have? We have what we have now? I thought about what would make me comfortable with this project, and I came up with those amendments [that the Council approved that evening].” She also addressed the suggestions made during citizen comment that the vote be taken by the next Council, of which she will not be a member, saying the project “has been around for two years … I was elected to serve four years [and] I feel like I have an obligation to vote on it, … so I’m trying to do the best I can with the job I was given to do four years ago.” Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she questioned the notion that “short is beautiful, citing the Dubin development on south Chicago Avenue and The Reserve at Ridge Avenue and Emerson Street as ugly. “I like this building,” she said. “[Approving it] will send a message that Evanston is [building] on a hope and a dream. … If we don’t approve this building and things turn around, then we’re going to look foolish.” Alderman Cheryl Wollin, 1st Ward, said many people from other cities have commented to her about Evanston and its vibrant downtown. “We have all the ingredients for a healthy downtown – transit, entertainment. … I respect Mr. Booth’s work tremendously. I don’t have any qualms about supporting this project.” Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said, “If I had my druthers, I would love to see this project [extend from] Church [to] Davis. … I will support this project, because I think it’s best for Evanston.” Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, said he would give the “closing argument.” He said, “This project has moved to respond to constituent concerns … so I don’t think anybody can really say, ‘I have not been heard.’ … Since Borders closed on Orrington Avenue that whole block has been dead and dying.” Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, who chairs the Planning and Development Committee, said, “I’m a buyer in the stock of Evanston.” He noted that the development could yield “$136 million in increased revenue over a 30-year period” and compared it to the present $145 million unfunded liability in the police and firefighters pension funds. “We have a great developer, a great architect, a signal project. … We have a great future,” he said. Only Aldermen Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, and Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, voted against the project. Ald. Tisdahl said there are already 400 condos on the market and, “I think the idea of adding 218 condos to an oversaturated market is unwise. … The economic [rosiness] that you are seeing I just don’t see.” Ald. Wynne said, “I don’t see that this is the correct site for a residential building with just retail on the bottom. … There are many sites [in the downtown area’ where residential could be built. … The argument that this is the only place where residents will come and bring their dollars is not necessarily true.” She pointed to the Chicago/Dempster area, where, she said, merchants “are hanging by a thread,” having seen a steep drop in commerce since the Roszak residential development there replaced several businesses. She said, “Residences have a limited economic engine. … [Allowing] one building on the most prime block in downtown with just retail on the ground lacks foresight. … Jim Wolinski said Evanston is evolving. … We don’t know what this new economy is going to be. I don’t want that new world to come and have our best lot tied down. Finally, [to the developers], I don’t think we’re getting enough from you. So what if we have vacancies in our parking garages [one of their reasons for asking for a reduction in parking spaces]? We didn’t build these to subsidize your building. What are we getting – a million dollars and a silver LEED building? For that FAR alone we should be getting much more back from you.” City Council has the ultimate vote, which is likely to come in the next few weeks. Tower Timeline Developers Tim Anderson and James Klutznick say they will “start to make pre-sales in 2010.” They say they will not demolish the 708 Church St. building until they are ready to begin construction. Their timeline is as follows: 2011, Construction begins 2011-13, Development is built 2012, Occupancy begins 2014, Project at full-build 2015, City receives property tax revenue from the project 2018, TIF expires Review Process The review process for the tower proposal appears somewhat convoluted because of the seeming overlap with the downtown plan. Although City Council has approved the downtown plan, they have enacted no enabling ordinances and no zoning ordinances to implement it. Further, the plan excluded the 700 block of Church Street (the location of the proposed tower). City officials said at the beginning of the downtown planning process there were three high-rise proposals there. City officials said they felt those proposals were far enough along to be considered “in the pipeline” when the downtown planning began and therefore should not be subject to whatever review process emerged from the downtown plan. Instead, they said, the three proposals – two of which were subsequently withdrawn – would be reviewed under the zoning code that was in force when the proposals first entered the pipeline. Nonetheless, they tabled the ordinance for the tower and agreed to hear the proposal only after the downtown plan had been adopted. Thus the Planning and Development Committee considered the proposal, including the requests for zoning relief, under the present planned-unit-development (PUD) ordinance, which allows a give-and-take between the City and developers, with the aim of reaching a compromised agreeable to both parties. Alderman Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward, noted that the tower proposal “came in at 35 stories, coincidentally the height approved in the downtown plan.” He also said, “The 35 stories under the downtown plan come with bonuses, public benefits.” He said the present proposal might not offer sufficient public benefits to earn 35 stories under the downtown plan, “but here we are discussing it.” Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, said, “When we moved to table the tower proposal it was to review it in terms of what we learned in the downtown plan.” Public Benefits Steve Friedland, attorney for the developers, outlined the public benefits of the proposed 35-sotry tower: • Architectural excellence and whole-building sustainability, with silver LEED certification; • $1 million donation toward the rehab of Fountain Square; • $880,000 contribution (as mandated by City ordiance) to the City’s affordable housing fund; • $22 million in TIF (tax-increment financing) revenues through 2018, when the TIF district expires; • $900,000 in projected real-estate transfer taxes; • Creation of jobs for Evanstonians; • $1.5 million in building permit fees; • Enhanced retail in the downtown core; • Extension of the streetscape to Davis Street on both Orrington and Sherman avenues; • No hole in the ground – a promise not to demolish the 708 Church St. building until developers are ready to begin construction.

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...