At its next regularly scheduled meeting, City Council members may deliberate whether to grant another extension to 700 Church St. LLC, an affiliate of Focus Development, to construct a 38-story retail/residential tower in downtown Evanston. The extension granted to the company in March of 2009 will expire on Dec. 31 unless the company obtains a building permit and begins construction by that time.

The request for three more years to begin construction on the proposed tower at 708 Church St. was held in the Planning and Development Committee on Nov. 11 at the request of Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward. She said she asked for the two-week deferral of the request for an extension of time “due to the absence of several people who have an interest in this, in consultation with the applicant.”

Second Ward Alderman Peter Braithwaite and Fifth Ward Alderman Delores Holmes were absent that evening.   

Although several people had signed up to speak at the committee meeting, once the committee chair, Third Ward Alderman Melissa Wynne, announced that the matter would be held for two weeks, only one person spoke on the issue of the tower.

Arthur Altman, who lives in the downtown area, gave several reasons for his opposition to the tower: that it would not fit with the character of downtown and would destroy an historic building in the process; that the construction process would endanger downtown businesses and perhaps force some of them to close and that there is already a surfeit of residential units in the downtown area – even without the 268-unit complex being built at Emerson Street and Oak Avenue. He said businesses in the downtown area “are really unhappy with the City for the debacle of Davis Street. … More [residential] units are not really needed. Downtown Evanston is turning into a Midtown Manhattan.”

Mr. Altman urged the committee members not to approve another extension for the tower “if you care at all about the business people [in the downtown area].” He added, “I don’t think in Evanston we should allow the big companies to control our citizens.”

City Council Meeting, March 23, 2009

In March 2009, City Council approved a planned development towering 400 feet above Church Street, with 38-stories, consisting of first-floor retail, four stories of above-ground parking (271 spaces) and 218 condominium units.

At that March 23, 2009 City Council meeting, the vote was 6-3 for approval, with aldermen Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward; Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward; and Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, voting against the proposal. Those voting to approve the proposal were Aldermen Cheryl Wollin, 1st Ward; Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward; Delores Holmes, 5th Ward; Edmund Moran, 6th Ward; Ann Rainey, 8th Ward; and Anjana Hansen, 9th Ward.

At that meeting, and with the same 6-3 split, aldermen also granted the developers 1) an extension of time until Dec. 31, 2013, to obtain a building permit and 2) a double exemption from the parking requirements of the zoning code – one for required residential parking and a second one for required retail parking. The developers would have to create only 271 parking spaces, rather that the some 400 otherwise required under the zoning code. Further, rather than create 35 parking spaces for retail customers, the developer would be able to rent those spaces in the Sherman Avenue garage.

Council members also agreed then to drop from the proposal the second-floor office space and underground parking that were included in the development plan approved by the Planning and Development Committee on March 3 of that year.

At that time, March of 2009, the developers had what would prove to be an ambitious timetable: beginning presales in 2010, obtaining a building permit by 2011 and beginning demolition and then construction as soon afterward as was feasible.  

Since then, the Council makeup has changed, and it is not clear how the new Council stands on the matter.

Next Steps

Procedurally the next step is for the Planning and Development Committee to discuss on Nov. 25 the request for extension of time. The committee members can decide to forward the matter to City Council for discussion that evening or to hold it in committee again. Should the matter move to City Council that night, Council members will deliberate the matter afresh.

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...