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The City’s Plan Commission, on Sept. 13, recommended the approval of a planned development that includes 286 dwelling units at 1452-1508 Sherman Ave. after a nearly four-hour meeting. The vote was 4-2. The Commission added a recommendation for more affordable housing in the project and adoption of recommendations by City Staff. 

The project, which would replace the building currently occupied by, among other businesses, the Tommy Nevin’s Pub and Prairie Moon restaurant, had been met with staunch opposition from a number of residents, who cited among other things, concerns about traffic, wind-tunnel effects, and the scope and character of the building.

The developers, Chicago-based Albion Residential, asked for five significant variances for their proposal: for the number of dwelling units, the building’s height, floor area ratio, number of parking spaces, and its ziggurat setback.

Representing Albion, attorney Donna Pugh of Foley & Lardner LLP detailed some of the recent modifications: reducing the number of dwelling units to 286; decreasing the height to 156 feet; decreasing the floor-area ratio to 6.78; and increasing the number of parking spaces to 186.

“We’ve been working very hard, listening to both our supporters and those who have some concern about the project,” added Andrew Yule, Albion’s Vice-President of Development. “We began this process in May, and we’ve gotten ourselves to a building that we believe is very economically feasible for the City of Evanston.”

Architect Paul Alessandro of Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture said, “Over the last month, we’ve been doing more development on the project, fine-tuning the heights of structural beams, mechanical equipment and floor-to-floor heights. So we were able to squeeze height out of the building from our original numbers and estimates.”

Mr. Alessandro added that each floor of the building lost “a couple of inches.”

Evanston resident Barbara White, who requested the continuance on a decision about the project in August, expressed her opposition to the project, maintaining that it would “permanently change the character of my neighborhood.”

Ms. White added, “It’s alarming to me to realize how this could happen without pertinent studies of how Evanston could be impacted in the long term, and I wonder who may be thinking long-range about our infrastructure, traffic congestion, the environment, and rising rents.”

Resident Lynn Ewing said that Albion’s estimate of the needed parking spaces was “unrealistic,” adding that if most of the units had two people, “It is most likely that one half of those units will have two people with cars, wanting two parking spaces in their building. … That’s going to be impossible with the percentage of units compared to the parking.”

Resident Thomas Wesley said he was in support of the project.

“The building site could not be better suited for a high-rise building,” Mr. Wesley said. “A taller high-rise, the Rotary [building], is just to the north, and just to the east, a 13-story Holiday Inn. To the south, is another block zoned with another D4 buildable height allowance.”

He added that CTA and Metra tracks and other buildings to the west provided sufficient buffers between the Albion building and residential areas.

During the commissioners’ discussion, Commissioner Colby Lewis said he noted a trend about new developments in the area not providing sufficient affordable housing. Albion had said its development would likely have two affordable units and that the company would make a contribution to the City’s affordable housing fund in lieu of more.

“It’s a disturbing trend,” said Mr. Lewis, who later added that he was in support of the project. “One of the reasons that I live in Evanston, if not the reason, is the diversity of the community. But that is a problem, I believe, with the way the law is written. It needs to be addressed, not just in the downtown developments, but … [in] every single zoning district.”

The Commission contemplated an affordable housing recommendation, even discussing the possibility of another continuance, an idea that was quickly dropped. Mr. Yule replied that, instead of the payment to the fund, the building could likely sustain 15 or 16 affordable units. The Commission’s recommendation adopted that number, and said that the units should be a mixture of studios and one- and two-bedroom apartments.

City Council has the ultimate vote on the project.