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Mount Pisgah Church leaders’ decades-long hope to create housing at a vacant City lot just east of the church moved a step closer to being realized last week, though some community members continue to raise misgivings.
Vision for Mixed-Income Housing, Retail
At the Feb. 8 City Council meeting, aldermen approved an ordinance authorizing the sale of City-owned property at 1805 Church St. and 1708-10 Darrow Ave. to an entity to be created by Mount Pisgah Ministry, Inc. and Housing Opportunity Development Corporation (HODC).
A preliminary memorandum between Mt. Pisgah and HODC calls for redevelopment of the lot as mixed-use/mixed-income housing.
Mt. Pisgah has owned outright its own worship faculty and adjacent lot at 1813-15 Church St. for 30 years and has served the west side of Evanston for 40 years.
“For 20 years, we have had a vision to participate in community development by building an affordable senior housing on the 1805 Church Street lot,” Church officials said in their request for proposals on the project.
“Mt. Pisgah has been trying to purchase the 1805 Church St. property years before COE [City of Evanston] acquired it, with the sole purpose of erecting affordable senior housing as a part of Mt. Pisgah’s ministry mission,” officials said in their proposal.
Partnership With HODC
Housing Opportunity Development Corporation is to lead the development team as owner, developer, and property manager, under the request for proposal. HODC is proposing new construction of roughly 20 to 25 affordable rental units at the 1805 Church St. site. The deal is to be structured as a lease-to-purchase program, according to the proposal, meaning in 15 years the building will be converted to condominiums, with the units sold to current occupants at affordable prices.
Residents Object to Project, Lack of Input, and Language of MOU
Nearby residents expressed concerns about the agreement, speaking at the Feb. 8 City Council meeting.
“Part of that agreement provides for the property to be sold or granted to a person who’s looking to develop,” said Carlis Sutton, addressing Council members during citizen comment. “I’m still adamantly opposed to the City becoming involved with religious organizations to develop a property that they [the applicants] can use to gain rents and to develop.”
Another longtime resident, Priscilla Giles, commented, “It seems the pandemic has given the City Council an opportunity to push through developers’ projects in the City without residents’ input.
“I believe if you ask the residents on the streets of Dodge, Darrow, and Church, you will find very few people who had any knowledge of the developers’ project,” she said.
She called the project “a lost chance” for residents “to have a building that would teach and train those in need of livable wages in trades.”
Another speaker, Renee Paden, raised concern about the language in the agreement between the entities.
“I look at the memorandum of understanding [and see] the language in that was very inappropriate,” she told Council members. “It says ‘Mount Pisgah has received the vision for present and future ministry. God has instructed them to build a building that will reflect His glory, power and majesty alone.’
“That language is inappropriate,” she said. “It definitely violates the separation of church and state.”
During discussion of the issue at the Council’s Administration & Public Works Committee, Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, in whose Fifth Ward the site is located, noted that efforts to redevelop the site go back 20 years.
The City’s acquiring the lot gave officials the chance to look at a better use on an underutilized property, she said.
“There’s a long road ahead,” she said. “And this request is only for our City Manager to enter into negotiation. There will be months of public process ahead after this event is approved today.”
Under the scope of duties outlined in the memorandum of understanding, Mt. Pisgah will hold “decision-making authority on approved costs on the property; participate actively in the site design and development process; and conduct fundraising activities to cover the project costs related to Mt. Pisgah’s ownership in the building.”
Further, the agreement is contingent on Mt. Pisgah Ministry’s securing the sites at 1805 Church St. as well as the two adjacent Darrow Avenue lots from the City.
Ald. Simmons called for waiver of the Council rules, which usually require a two-week wait between introduction and action on such an item.
Council members then voted 9-0 in support of authorizing the City Manager to negotiate the sale of the properties.