Members of the Evanston Plan Commission on Aug. 12 unanimously approved a proposal asking for a number of variances for a planned development at 1012 Chicago Avenue, between Main and Greenleaf streets.
Approvals came from Board Chair Jeanne Lindwall and Commissioners George Halik, Kristine Westerberg and Matt Rodgers.
The project’s developers, Chicago-based MCZ Development, requested variances allowing them to include 116 dwelling units, wherein only 78 would be allowed presently; build to 80.6 feet, wherein 67 feet are allowed, and reduce the number of required off-street parking spaces to 58 from the present 75.
The proposal next heads to the Evanston City Council, with a number of recommendations from the Commission attached.
Westerberg remarked that the proposal utilized an “aggressively modern design” and asked MCZ’s attorney, Nick Ftikas, how his clients thought they might be complementing existing structures in the neighborhood.
Architect William Hornof said that the vision for the structure was a “village of apartments” that would present a “long façade” along Chicago Avenue.
“The idea is to try to connect it to the community, literally, which is why you see [aspects of the structure] poking in and out,” said Hornof.
The structure is set back seven feet from the property line on the ground floor, but various balconies and other components on higher floors project closer to the line, with one part extending a few feet into the right-of-way.
“You’d be able to look up from the sidewalk and see the bottom of the balconies,” Hornof added.
Westerberg said she was concerned that the protruding balconies would seem claustrophobic for pedestrians as well as subject them to falling rainwater. Mr. Hornof said he was willing to reconsider.
“I’m afraid that, in this location, it’s not going to seem quite in character with what folks are used to seeing,” Westerberg added.
Rodgers expressed concern with the ongoing efforts to improve the Chicago Avenue streetscape, noting that the proposed contribution that MCZ mentioned might not recoup damages done by the construction. City Development Planner Michael Griffith said that he was unsure of the specific timing of the improvements, but the Public Works Department was keeping the applicant apprised of the streetscape project.
Commissioner Halik asked why City staff thought the reduction in parking spaces would be acceptable. Griffith answered that the development was in proximity to ample public transportation.
“Theoretically I get that, but does staff have data on other buildings and what actual usage is, to come to this conclusion on a numbers basis?” Halik asked.
“The City has been trying to encourage less parking, and encourage an overall ratio that this building has, with parking for about half of the dwelling units,” Griffith said.
But during community questions and comments, some local residents expressed concern should residents of the building need to park in the neighborhood.
“You’ve reduced the number of parking spaces, and, unless you’re not going to allow people to move in there, they’re going to have to park out on the street,” said resident Jan Stein. “Then where are we going to park?”
Lindwall noted, however, that many recent developments that have provided the standard amount of parking are operating below capacity.
“This is a rental building [so] we are not anticipating that high volume of two cars per household,” added Ftikas. “That just does not seem to be the market.”
Halik reiterated his point that the Commission and the public should have access to data about the impact that variances and other decisions have long-term, a point he made again during the discussion about parking.
“I totally appreciate a resident coming in and saying, ‘Hey, I’m afraid we’re going to have a problem.’ … Knowing the experiences of other buildings in the neighborhood would be helpful.”
Among the final proposal recommendations from the Commission were prohibiting the intrusion of balconies into the right of way; restricting non-residential traffic to non-rush-hour times of day; and developing a construction-management plan in conjunction with Chicago Avenue streetscape improvements.
Nichols Middle School is at capacity. Lincoln Elementary reports 456 students and a 500 student capacity since it turned its auditorium into learning space. There is a new apartment building being erected at Main and Sherman. Parking cars is an issue, but what about the school’s capacity to educate the kids that will increase enrollment in local schools?
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