Rendering of proposed apartment complex at 1890 Maple/1881 Oak.Rendering from the City of Evanston

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The Carroll Properties development team – owner Robert King, architect Michael Jerome of Fitzgerald Associates, attorney Gregg Gaines of DLA Piper and builder Alan Schachtman of Fifield Realty – presented the plan for 1890 Maple Ave. and 1881 Oak Ave., now consolidated into a single apartment complex, at two meetings last week.

In 2006 and 2007 City Council approved planned developments (PDs) for two separate Carroll projects on the site, two long-vacant lots along Emerson Street, said Dennis Marino, manager of Planning and Zoning for the City. Although several changes have been made to the original proposals, City Council members said they felt those changes were not significant enough to warrant sending the proposal back through the entire planning process.

Instead, they said, it could be considered by the Planning and Development Committee and City Council.

The major changes in the consolidated project are (1) reduction of retail space from 21,070 square feet to approximately 4,000 square feet; (2) an increase in number of units from 342 to 368; (3) a reduction in number of parking spaces from 541 to 371; (4) the entire building is to be rental instead of having one building of condominiums; and (5) a reduction in height of the two towers, from 185 feet to 165 feet (west tower) and from 158 feet to 146 feet (east tower).

“The public benefits are obvious – new jobs and property taxes on a building instead of a vacant lot,” Mr. King told the some 50 residents at a Second Ward meeting on Jan. 10. He also said that, although the number of parking spaces has been reduced to fewer than were required when the development was approved years ago, the present number of parking spaces is slightly more than required under the downtown plan adopted two years ago.  

Townhomes along Emerson Street, set back about 17 feet from the curb, are intended to mask the three-story parking structure. All units will be rental at market price, said Mr. King. Most will be 500-square-foot studios or larger one-bedroom units, with a few two-bedroom and three-bedroom units (1335 square feet).

Mr. Schachtman said the residential towers will be built to LEED standards, following the City’s green building ordinance. “We always have to aim high,” he said, adding that the building will have at least silver certification [the City’s minimum].”  It will also have solar panels and electric parking stations. “This will be as green as or greener than any other building in Evanston,” he said.

At the Jan. 10 meeting, some nearby residents said they welcomed the project but others expressed concern about the mass, the possible noise and glare, the rental aspect and the size of the small units.

Bob Brauer said he felt that the previous proposal was preferable because it had a mix of retail, rental and condos. Because all units would now be rental, he said, he felt the tenants would be transient and not connected to Evanston. He said, “What Evanston needs is a community where people have a vested interest. I don’t think this project is very helpful for Evanston; 78 percent of the units are studios and one-bedrooms. There will be 400 residents, and [the building] looks like a monstrosity. I think it’s a mistake. It would be a terrible mistake for City Council to approve this kind of building.”

Pat Lewman, another resident, said she thought the current project is “better than the other one.” Yet another said, “The principal tenants are going to be Northwestern University students.” Mr. King responded, “We don’t know that, and that’s not our target. We’re seeking young professionals.”

Questions also arose about the reduced space allocated for retail. The developers said they hope to attract a Starbuck’s or Caribou Coffee to the project and said they thought their tenants would spend money in the downtown area.   

Mr. Marino said the project would create about 200 temporary construction jobs and about 13 permanent jobs in the building. Mr. King added, the project would be “a union project, but I will try to hire as many minority participants as possible.” Bennett Johnson asked Mr. King whether he would be willing to meet with non-union minority contractors in Evanston, and Mr. King said that he would.

The developers said construction could begin as early as this fall, with City Council approval, and the project would take 18-22 months to complete.

On Jan. 14, several citizens argued that the revised project should be sent back to the Plan Commission for a full review. At the Planning and Development Committee meeting, local activist Jeff Smith said, “It should have gone back to Plan Commission. That’s what our law says…. If we have a law, we should be following it. Failure to follow the law “institutionalizes bait and switch.”

Developers can consistently present one plan to the Plan Commission, get it passed, then amend that plan a year or so later, he said.

Evanston dentist Stamata Blanas agreed, saying that the expertise provided by members of the Plan Commission allows a more detailed look at projects. She urged Council to ask the experts before approving changes to a project such as the proposed development.

Numerous other citizens, however, spoke in favor of the project.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, the only alderman to speak on the matter Monday night, said, “This couldn’t be a better place to put a building like this. It fits perfectly.” She said that, when completed, the building will generate $1.2 million in taxes.

City Council is likely to approve the project at its Jan. 28 meeting.