The long-vacant parcel at Church Street and Darrow Avenue could see some construction in the coming year. RoundTable photo

A partnership between Housing Opportunity Development Corporation (HODC) and Mount Pisgah Ministry could add mixed-income residences to the long-vacant corner of Church Street and Darrow Avenue. The parcel at 1805 Church St. is the former site of a gas station, said City Economic Development Manager Paul Zalmezak, which Chevron Corporation cleaned up after the City sued the company.

The City has a “no further remediation” letter, Mr. Zalmezak said at the Dec. 10 meeting of the Joint Review Board, so the site is ripe for development. The City has been looking for a way to improve the property for more than a decade.

The Joint Review Board, composed of representatives of all taxing bodies affected by a tax-increment financing (TIF) district, meets at least annually to discuss the progress of each TIF.

The HODC-Mount Pisgah partnership would construct a new church building and community space on the parcel owned by Mount Pisgah and a mixed-use, retail and commercial, development on the City-owned parcel, Mr. Zalmezak said.

The challenge, he said, will be the present zoning of the somewhat restrictive West Evanston special overlay district, “which prescribes specifically what can be built on this, which is a three-story building, [and] frankly something bigger there [is needed].”

Mr. Zalmezak said he hopes that the zoning review will be completed in the next five to six months, with a land transfer – sale or donation for tax credits – contemplated in the fall of 2021. He said he did not believe the development would harm the public schools financially but added, “I would not like to see this convert to complete church or nonprofit ownership.”

The parcel lies in the West Evanston TIF district, whose lumpy shape somewhat resembles a capital italicized I as it stretches along Dodge Avenue from Emerson Street to Greenleaf Street. The TIF was established in 2005 with a base equalized assessed valuation (EAV) of $34,477,570; the EAV in 2019 was $38,354,085.

Mr. Zalmezak noted economic activity and potential in other parts of the TIF: the property at 1611 Church St. listed for sale at $1.8 million; façade improvements along Church Street; and the relocation of the Evanston Rebuilding Warehouse to space in the former warehouse on the southeast corner of Dempster Street and Hartrey Avenue.

“It’s interesting how this building, which was originally built to make large radios like the one featured in the movie ‘A Christmas Story,’ has changed so many times since the 1940s and ’50s. So now it’s a mix of social services and food production and now The Rebuilding Warehouse.

Referring to the vacant parcels of land in the old railroad berm along Dodge Avenue north of Lake Street, Mary Rodino, Chief Financial Officer of School District 202, said Evanston Township High School students climb the berm as a shortcut to and from the school.

“The fact that we have so many kids who travel that – what looks like a scary space to me – I think is really something we should try to address.” She added, “As long as it’s private property, maybe there’s nothing we can do about it … because technically, the owner could say, ‘Well, the kids shouldn’t be coming through it,’ and put a fence in.”

Mr. Zalmezak said, “We all want something to happen [there]. At the end of the day, we’ll figure out together as a community… Could this be incorporated as parkland? Could you flatten this and square this out? There are lots of things we could do; we just need to work together and actually do a planning process. … We have to look at the big picture.”