Rendering of 1727 Oak Ave. from City Council materials

Evanston City Council approved the development at 1727 Oak Street, an “active senior” building with a proposed 169 units. The vote was 6-2, with Aldermen Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, and Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward casting the “no” votes. 

The project will be one of two under construction in the immediate area at roughly the same time, with 1815 Ridge set to break ground shortly. Opposition to the project, largely by residents in the Sienna development across Oak, failed to sway enough Council members. 

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she believed the opposition mainly stemmed from “misgivings” about the Sienna development itself, citing a collapsed parking deck and other issues with what she termed “the Roszak project.” She said “the presentation made by this developer [Trammel Crow was] one of the best I’ve ever heard. I think we’re going to be fine.” 

Issues raised by neighbors concerned congestion in and around the building and access to parking for caregivers seeking to assist clients in the Sienna. When built, the Sienna project teamed with the Center for Independent Futures to offer units to disabled individuals, many of whom have caregivers coming and going with regularity. 

Johnny Carlson of Texas-based Trammell Crow, the developer, said the company had listened to caregiver-parking concerns and reached an agreement with the “seller of land across the street” to secure “five parking stalls for caregivers.” Logistics still have to be worked out, he said, but at least five parking spots would be made available. “Change is hard,” he said. “We’re here to work together.”

Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, acknowledged the problem, saying the “issue of caregiver parking [is] an issue we should have been aware of and addressed before now.” She praised Trammell Crow for being willing to work with neighbors to address the parking issue. 

She also praised the inclusion of 17 affordable units on-site. The developer will not pay a fee-in-lieu but instead comply with the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance by providing units guaranteed to be affordable (according to HUD standards) for 25 years. 

Others protested the specifics of the IHO compliance. Ald. Wynne said the 17 units were not compliant because the formula for determining affordability did not reach enough of those making 50% of Area Median Income (AMI).

The City ordinance requires 10% of units to be affordable, and the development meets that requirement. According to a memo prepared by staff, the “developer proposes a different mix of income restrictions from the ordinance because compliance with the income requirements from the ordinance would be infeasible.” 

The development will include four units at 50% of AMI, five at 60% and eight at 80%, all studio and one bedroom units. None of the development’s two-bedroom units will be income-restricted.  

Ald. Wynne also raised pedestrian-safety concerns, specifically the “particularly sensitive community” of Sienna, and the additional traffic to be generated by the development. “Their needs have not been properly addressed,” she said. 

Ald. Fiske, agreed, calling the location “a very difficult site” and “a potentially dangerous location.” She also said the site allowances were “too excessive for the site.”

They were alone on Council, though. Alderman Peter Braithwaite, in whose Second Ward property lies, said the “issues raised [in opposition] are issues we’ve raised and addressed in maybe seven community meetings.”

 Specifically regarding caregiver-parking, he said, “You have my commitment. We will work in the parking issue.”

 “I have heard from only a few people who live in the building [Sienna],” said Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward. She contrasted the opposition to opposition to the Albion building, which she voted against. Opponents of Albion came from all over the City, not just next door, she said. “I cannot vote no to a project that has a whole lot of benefits to the City.” She did say she wished the public benefits had been better, saying she did not find a transit tracker board in the lobby or landscaping “exciting.”

 “Contrary to what’s said on social media,” said Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, “We really don’t approve every development. … It’s not a winning or losing game. … it’s about building a better Evanston.” He said the City should re-evaluate the truck route down Oak Avenue  because of safety concerns, but called the process an “ongoing collaboration.”

 With only Alds. Fiske and Wynne opposing, the project passed Council 6-2.