Emerson Square Townhouses. The plan for the 32-unit development calls for two sets of two-story frame townhomes and four side-by-side six-flat residences.

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Anger, frustration and distrust that had been simmering among some West Side residents for years boiled over at a meeting at Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center. The Oct. 11 meeting was convened by the City of Evanston to update area residents on the Emerson Square project – the second phase of its Neighborhood Stabilization Plan.

The Design of Emerson Square

Emerson Square is now planned as a 32-unit mixed-income residential development to be located on the property just west of Green Bay Road bounded roughly by Jackson and Dewey avenues and Emerson and Foster streets. Locally the two parcels of land are known as the Bishop Freeman and the Robinson Bus properties. Developer Brinshore Partners is in negotiations for the property, City officials say.

David Brint of Brinshore described the proposed development. The development would have 24 rental apartments in four six-flat buildings and two sets of two-story townhomes.

The red-brick six-flats, to be located along Foster Street, would be three stories tall, with three apartments on either side of a single entrance. The townhomes, of frame construction, would be offered for sale. Gilbert Park, a tot lot now located on Emerson Street, would be relocated into the development, and a new segment of Florence Avenue would connect Foster and Emerson streets.

Building materials would reflect the existing homes in the neighborhood, said David Haymes of Pappageorge Haymes, architect for the project.

As planned there would be four one-bedroom, one-bath units; 18 two-bedroom, one-bath units and 10 three-bedroom, two-bath units. Rental prices would range from $287 to $830 for the one-bedroom units, from $339 to $908 for two-bedroom units, and $372-$1018 for three-bedroom units. Since the units of each size will be similar, the difference in price reflects the income guidelines for affordability.

City officials say 14 units will be affordable to households that earn no more than 50 percent of the area median income (AMI), which is approximately $37,000 for a family of four; another 14 will be affordable to households that earn 60 percent of the AMI – $45,000 for a family of four. Four units – one one-bedroom and three two-bedroom units – will be offered at market rate.

Peter Levavi of Brinshore said each first-floor unit would be wheelchair accessible with wide hallways, according to state standards for private residences. The project will be built to meet the requirements of the Enterprise Green Communities criteria, Brinshore officials told the RoundTable.

In addition to Energy Star appliances, the project will use low-VOC paints and adhesives, energy-efficient windows, native plants, additional insulation and many other best practices to minimize utility expenditures for building occupants, according to Brinshore.

The site requires environmental remediation, and the City has received a grant from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to conduct soil- and water-sampling on the site. The City also says it “intends to enter the site into the IEPA’s voluntary clean-up program. “We expect a letter of compliance from the EPA at the end of the project,” said Mr. Levavi.

Neighbors’ Responses

Few, if any, of the nearly 50 residents who attended the meeting appeared to be interested in the particulars of the proposed development. Instead they questioned the development and expressed resentment toward developers from Northbrook coming into their neighborhood to build a project they neither asked for nor wanted.

Alderman Delores Holmes, in whose Fifth Ward lie many of the NSP2 properties as well as the Emerson Square site, addressed the residents. She said the area had come a long way “since 1999, when the Plan Commission started meeting about West Side Development. The West Side Master Plan was adopted [by the City Council] in 2007.”

Dennis Marino, zoning manager for the City of Evanston, said, “One of the focuses of the West Side Master Plan was the Bishop Freeman Site. Not a whole lot has been happening since 2007, but there has been resurgence in the development of rental properties.”

Although the West Side Master Plan adopted by the City Council represented several years of planning meetings attended by stakeholders in the West Side of Evanston, several residents who attended the Oct. 11 meeting alluded to a second plan neighbors had created.

Carliss Sutton and Roberta Hudson referred to a survey they had taken of the neighbors and said that a development such as Emerson Square was neither contemplated nor wanted.

“Do you plan to consider the report we did at Family Focus?” asked Mr. Sutton. He said it is “in opposition to” the West Side Master Plan.

“I know there were some folks who did not agree [with the West Side Master Plan],” Mr. Marino responded, “but this is the City’s plan.”

“This is a façade,” said Mr. Sutton.

“There is nothing we asked for,” said Priscilla Jacks. “We did not ask for housing in this area. We asked the people [what they wanted]. You have 10 percent of the people who lost their homes able to get into this housing that we didn’t even want.”

“But in the end, when the voting came, this [plan] was voted [for] in 2007,” said Ald. Holmes.

Ms. Hudson said, “This [development] is taking advantage of the disadvantaged. None of the people on my block want this. We’re interested in jobs. We don’t want any more housing. … I think the whole thing should be thrown out.” Applause accompanied her remark.

Elise Liddell said she thought a school in the area “should take precedence over anything you said here today.”

“The City does not build schools. The School District does,” said Ald. Holmes. “We still need a skill center [a place for youth to learn trades],” she said.

Lonnie Wilson said, “My concern is that the people who are unemployed are still unemployed. … You would not have gotten this grant if it hadn’t been for people here losing their homes.”

Mr. Levavi responded, “We are very familiar with African American communities who have lost residents and who want them to come back. We have found that the best way to get people to come back is quality affordable housing.”

The tone of the meeting circled inward on the past and the resentment of some members of the community toward the City, the West Side Master Plan and other events that brought neighbors to the meeting to – as they seemed to see it – protect what was left of their community against what they termed outsiders.

Representatives from the City and from Brinshore reiterated their belief that Emerson Square would benefit the community.

Mr. Marino said, “What we have been seeing is a decline in population [in this area] and an increase in vacancies. … A new development that benefits people [who need] affordable housing and is sensibly planned and well-designed can help the neighborhood … and strengthen the community.”

Lynn Heidt, a local realtor, said she thought the low rent – $300 per month – “will bring down the neighborhood.”

Architect Mr. Haymes said, “Philosophically, affordable housing is no different from any other kind of housing.”

Bennett Johnson said he believed the neighbors had a different concern: “Gentrification is on people’s minds. There is no doubt in my mind that in 15 years this land will not be occupied by black people.”

The criteria for renters of Brinshore properties are also aimed at stability. Mr. Brint said his company performs criminal checks and background checks, requires that tenants work at least 30 hours per week and conducts drug tests.

Ald. Holmes said, “There are young people in this neighborhood who want to have good housing.”

Mr. Brint said the Bishop Freeman property was an “eyesore.” He also said that many of the units being rehabbed on the West Side were unsafe. … In some cases, walls were falling down. … As the standard [of property upkeep] keeps going down you lose people who would want to live here. … It’s a miracle that the City got this grant, but if the homes would continue to go down, what would happen to the neighbors?”

Ald. Holmes said, “We are talking this to death. We’ve got to move on with one community. … We have a chance to get homes for our community. We’ve got to move on.”

Yet some persisted.

John Nance, who grew up in Evanston but now lives in Country Club Hills, said, “People moved away because they couldn’t find work.” He asked how Brinshore would ensure that those who left would be the ones to move into Emerson Square.”

Mr. Brint said preference would be given to those who live and work in Evanston by marketing the units here for three to six months and “then market it broadly.”

Saying he represented the Evanston Black Contractors Association, Mr. Johnson acknowledged the subcontracting work given to local businesses but added, “We want to be on your side of the table.”

Next Steps

The meeting disintegrated rather than being formally closed. Mr. Marino said the proposal would be heard next by the Site Plan and Appearance Review Committee, and later the City Council would amend its redevelopment agreement with Brinshore.

Background on NSP2 Funds in Evanston

Nearly two years ago the City received $18 million in the second round of federal funding to stabilize neighborhoods that were deteriorating from the epidemic of mortgage foreclosures. This program is called the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP2). In its application for the funds, the City selected Brinshore Partners of Northbrook to act as its partner and as the developer of both rehabbed and new housing. Under the grant for Evanston, NSP2 funds were to be spent used first to purchase 100 foreclosed and vacant properties in two specific census tracts, one on the City’s west side and one on the south side, to rehab the units and sell or rent them at affordable prices as determined by guidelines developed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). That phase is about 75 percent complete, said Jolene Saul, who manages the project for the City. Four units – two rental and two for sale – are now on the market at affordable prices, she said.

Funds left over from that project – and any additional funds received or leveraged by the City or Brinshore – would be used to build a new mixed-income housing development on the City’s west side. This development is called Emerson Square.

Among the conditions of the grant from HUD were that the main contractor, Brinshore, subcontract 25 percent of the work to local or minority-owned businesses and 10 percent of the work to small businesses located in the target area – called “”Section 3″” businesses.

Ms. Saul said 72 percent of the subcontracting went to minority-owned, woman-owned or Evanston-based businesses and 27 percent to Section 3 businesses.

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...