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The Design and Plan Review Committee (DAPR) approved a few changes to The Emerson, a mixed-income senior development at 1900 Emerson St.., on Sept. 29.

“A lot of this is standard design and development changes as we go from conceptual design … into design development,” said Bill James of Camiros, Ltd., a Chicago-based planning consultancy working on the project.  

Changes needing approval included decreasing the number of dwelling units from 168 to 152; decreasing the number of below-grade parking spaces from 37 to 25; and decreasing the zoning height from just above 172 feet to just above 168 feet.

The development will share its lot with the existing Jane Perlman building, which is owned and operated by the Housing Authority of Cook County. As the project progressed through the approval stages in 2020, some Evanstonians objected to the scale of the Emerson. Local affordable housing advocates conversely applauded its possibility for significantly increasing affordable housing stock in the city. 

A previous rendering of The Emerson from City of Evanston materials provided by the Housing Authority of Cook County

James said Sept. 29 that the newly proposed changes would not be noticeable from the exterior of the Emerson, nor would they result in a change in the number of affordable units developers have promised. He added that the changes came about from a structural issue with the foundation of the Perlman Building, and a shift in tenant preferences toward larger apartments during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID will result in some changes in how we live,” added James.

Evanston officials define such changes as major ones, necessitating DAPR approval before going through the Plan Commission and, ultimately, the City Council. Architect Greg Klosowski said that a reconfiguration of units would likely lead to less traffic and parking demand, hence the modification to The Emerson’s parking specifications. 

City Council member Clare Kelly, 1st Ward, in whose ward the project is to be built, took part in the Sept. 29 meeting and objected that none of the units in the building that had been classified for affordable housing had two bedrooms.

“Doesn’t the fact that there is not a single affordable two-bedroom [unit] fly in the face of our inclusionary housing ordinance?” Kelly asked. 

James answered that since The Emerson would be an age-restricted building, there would not be demand for family-sized units. Evanston Neighborhood & Land Use Planner Meagan Jones added that the affordable units “to the extent possible, the affordable units should match [what was already planned] for the building” and that the plans had been reviewed by City staff.

“But I think it should be pointed out nevertheless that it does not meet what is asked for in our inclusionary housing ordinance and it should be stated,” Kelly said. 

Community Development Director Johanna Nyden said that such a question is not in DAPR or City staff’s purview.

“We review for completeness of application and technical aspects of the project,” she said. “This will next go to the Plan Commission and they’ll make a recommendation in support or denial to the City Council and Planning and Development Committee.”

Kelly said, “We rely on Staff to bring facts forward to the public, not to say simply, ‘This meets our inclusionary housing ordinance,’ when in fact it doesn’t. We don’t want you to tell us which way it should go. We want you to tell the facts to us. That is a fact that needs to be presented to the public.”

DAPR members nevertheless unanimously approved the proposed changes for The Emerson. The proposal next heads to the Evanston Plan Commission. 

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  1. Two things. Define affordable in terms of an hourly wage and don’t throw around the term affordable but not say to whom. What is the dollarly wage per hour along with yearly salary that you’d have to make to live in Evanston anywhere. What is the minimum? And, I would like to see a basic budget of a person’s expenses and how this would work.

    Secondly, how did this building get pushed through well above our height limit for what we allow in this town? Just wondering who the rules work for?

    There are “Robert’s Rules” which are basically to do Emily Post and make it so you follow a certain form for the meetings, you know, like company manners. But what about, allowing the community, i,e. taxpayers who are actually paying your salaries (albeit minimum but NU with their 12 billion dollar endowment I’m sure top up some money to pay you a liveable wage) for the council and mayor and not even a liveable wage ( so the people who run either go on bread and water or are independently wealthy). And, there is a lot of non civility at the council meetings and no regard for citizen engagement. Speaking up at these meetings does absolutely nothing and is tantamount or not that unlike going to an AA meeting where you just State your case and sit down. What is the point of that? Really? This is not what democracy looks like. And, what is going on here can cause civil unrest not unlike when there was the Boston Tea Party, you know, taxation without representation? You have an educated populace so you will have to deal with us. Further, you know the old saying if mama ain’t happy ain’t nobody going to be happy? How about if your constituents aren’t happy what are you doing? Who are you serving? I like to see some quantitative along with qualitative analysis on this. And then, get back to me.