The latest proposal for the office building at 1714-20 Chicago Ave. is somewhat lower in height. Rendering by architect Paul Janicki from City of Evanston materials

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City Council members stepped back Feb. 25 from a vote on an 11-story high-rise office building proposed for the City-owned lot behind the Evanston Public Library, after an alderman expressed concern about the need for protections if the project failed to proceed.

Aldermen voted 6-3 in favor of a motion to hold the issue until either the March 18 City Council meeting or at a meeting in which all nine aldermen are in attendance.

The move came after Alderman Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, raised concern that the City could be placed in a “kind of limbo state” if things do not work out for the developer and the City does not have protections in place.

Ald. Wilson noted the development team has evolved over a period of a time, “and I’m interested just getting some more information on what that team looks like.”

He told Council members a bigger concern has to do with any contract the City will enter into with the developer. “If we change the zoning, the property is sold and the development doesn’t proceed, then obviously we have a significant problem,” he said.

What needs to be determined, he said, “is what is the exit strategy if that situation occurs.”  He said that the contract needs to provide assurances that if the project does not proceed, the property would revert to the City.

Ald. Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, asked officials about Ald. Wilson’s concerns and what steps would be needed to address them.

To answer Ald. Wilson’s concerns, City Corporation Counsel Michelle Masoncup said the City could further amend its agreement with the developers to provide for further restrictions to address a situation where a developer could purchase the property and then never pull the building permit, with the property rezoned.

As for the development team, she said, the City would seek information from the developers about their operating agreement and other details.

Ald. Fiske suggested the City be clear in what it is asking.

  “I think we need to be as clear as possible,” she said, “given the length of the process and the cooperation we had from the development team – that we make it as clear as possible what information we’re really asking them to provide. Because just to keep moving the goal posts I think is not what is intended here.”

The applicant on the project, listed as Paul Janicki Architects in the ordinance for a special use permit,  announced a plan at the Feb. 11 City Council Planning & Development Committee meeting, dropping the height of the office building from 13 stories to 11 stories and moving 76 public parking spaces to the building.

The 76 parking spaces would replace the current 74 parking spaces in the surface lot behind the main library. To accommodate tenants of the office building, the developer is proposing to lease 203 off-site parking spaces in City garages for a period of five years.

The City is expecting to receive $4 million from sale of the lot to the developers under the terms of their purchase agreement.

The revised proposal came in the face of strong citizen opposition leveled against the bigger project, and recommendations against it from the City staff’s Design and Project Review Committee (DAPR) as well  as the Evanston Plan Commission.

Beside height and bulk, residents have raised other concerns about the project, including its impact on parking in the area, loss of trees and the safety of the alley between the library and the parking lot.

The applicant is requesting that the City vacate a 321-square-foot portion of the alley to extend the property line for the building.

In citizen comment at the Feb. 25 meeting, comments still ran strong against the project.

Vickie Burke, board president of the Center for Women’s History and Leadership and council chair for the Frances Willard Museum and Archives, located just to the north of the proposed project, noted that both the DAPR and the Plan Commission had made recommendations to the applicant to address zoning concerns.

“But these benchmarks remained unmet, even with the last minute changes submitted by the developer less than a week ago,” she said.

Laurie Howick, a resident of Lakeview Terrace, a condominium complex located to the north of the proposed project at 1738 Chicago Ave., had hoped for a decision.

 “I’m disappointed, because it seems we just keep giving the developer more and more time trying to find some meaningless answers to really secondary points,” she said. “The lot coverage still requires so much variance.  Even if they change the zoning, they still require enormous amounts of variances.”