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The 101-unit 1571 Maple Ave. project was held by City Council March 23 in order to review the affordable housing contribution to be made by the developer, currently set at $120,000. Other concerns over the lack of parking – the project has no on-site parking for residents – and the impact on the views of neighboring residents continued to weigh on both the Mayor’s and Aldermen’s minds.
Rather than provide on-site parking, the developer plans to market units to renters who do not own cars. As a way of complying with minimum parking requirements imposed by the City and best practices, the developer will lease 101 parking spaces from the City in the Maple Avenue garage, about a quarter of a mile to the north, rather than in the closer but nearly full Sherman Avenue garage. Aldermen Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, and Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, among others, expressed serious reluctance to approve a development with zero on-site parking.
A staff memo said that the City’s zoning code requires 142 parking spaces for this large a development.
The development will sit within yards of the 1570 Elmwood Ave. condominium property, and property owners there have complained from the outset about the destruction of their north-facing views, and the resulting reduction in property value. Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said she was “concerned about the views,” indicating her reluctance to approve the project.
The main topic of the evening, however, was the affordable housing component. Evanston ordinances require affordable units, or a payment in lieu, in condominium developments, but not in apartment developments. The Planned Development provisions of the code allow the imposition of requirements, however, as a component of the “significant public benefit” that all planned developments must demonstrate in order to qualify for zoning relief.
As Council’s debate began, Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said, “I’d much rather see a couple of units of affordable housing” in the development rather than a dollar figure contribution to the affordable housing fund. “I’m very disturbed when [that we do not have] affordable units in our downtown area.”
Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, upped the ante. “My concern is the affordable housing component,” she said. She called for “not just more funds in our affordable housing fund but [to] actually create affordable housing units.” She suggested two to five units.
“I think we should take back the $120,000 and provide five units of affordable housing,” said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward. She suggested the units remain affordable for seven to 10 years and then revert to market rate.
Ald. Braithwaite took the matter one step further, calling for 10% affordable units, matching the requirement for condominium developments.
“I do agree with what everyone has said about affordable housing units,” said Ald. Fiske. “I would like to see those units downtown … not a payment to the fund.”
Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said the affordable housing fund contribution should be larger. Responding to a citizen who suggested raising the current contribution level to more than $1 million, Ald. Wynne said, “When [Sharon Feigon] suggested adding a zero to the affordable housing fund. I understand her point.” Ald. Wynne calculated the savings to the developer in not having to build 101 parking spaces at approximately $30,000 to $35,000 per space and reasoned that the savings warranted a larger contribution. “It’s very legitimate to recognize that we’re saving them an enormous amount of money,” she said.
“We’ve got to make this a better project,” said Ald. Rainey.
Michael McLean, speaking for the developer, said, “Unfortunately, it would have been helpful if we had these issues on the table quite some time ago. It makes it really difficult at the 11th hour.” He said the site itself, “L” shaped and compact, “can’t really handle” a parking deck. Parking does not cost the developer money, he said, because they can charge residents for parking spaces. They save in construction costs, “but we’re not achieving income.”
“There were no guarantees we were going to vote for this without parking,” responded Ald. Braithwaite. Negotiations at the City Council level, the body with final authority, should have been expected, he added.
Ald. Rainey agreed, but searched for compromise. “I agree that [affordable] units are important,” she said, “But I don’t want to lose this project. And we probably wouldn’t. What about a compromise – $100,000 per year for 10 years.” The City could use the money to subsidize units “in areas that are pretty homogenous.” She suggested funding an Evanston version of HUD’s voucher system (formerly called Section 8) as a way to “apply those dollars to housing [in] actual units. We could use that money to help assist families into these units.”
Mr. McLean first said it was difficult to negotiate in public, on camera, but ultimately agreed to contribute $500,000 to the fund.
Alderman Don Wilson, whose Fourth Ward includes the site, suggested holding the matter until April 13 for the City and developer to negotiate a solution to the affordable housing aspect of the project. Council agreed.