After much debate on precedent, policy and procedure, aldermen voted on Nov. 25 not to grant an extension of time to Focus Development for its project at 708 Church St. In 2009, City Council approved a three-year extension of the projects, which at that time included ground-floor retail, four flours of parking and more than 200 condominium residences above that. The height of the 35-story building was proposed at 385 feet.

Focus Development had requested a three-year extension, and that was debated at the Planning and Development Committee meeting then forwarded to City Council without a recommendation. During the Planning and Development Committee meeting, Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, closely and persistently questioned both Tim Anderson, head of Focus Development, and Focus’ attorney, David Reifman of DLA Piper.

Ald. Wilson also elicited the information that Focus neither owned the property nor had a contract for it. Neither would disclose the owner of the property, other than saying it was owned by a trust with 11 beneficiaries, none of whom is Mr. Anderson or Focus development.

Mr. Reifman said such an arrangement was “not atypical” and that, once the extension was granted, Focus planned to become the contract purchaser of the property.

At the Council meeting, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said her ruling was that a supermajority – that is, six votes – would be needed to approve the extension of time.

Although her ruling was backed somewhat by Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar, a motion led by Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, defeated the Mayor’s ruling and the proceedings went forward with the requirement of only a simple majority to approve the extension of time.

Ald. Rainey, a vocal supporter of the project, then modified the request for the extension of time to one year.

The motion for an extension of time was defeated 5-4, with Aldermen Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, Jane Grover, 7th Ward and Ald. Wilson voting against the extension of time and Aldermen Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward and Ald. Rainey voting for the extension.  

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...