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Evanston City Council members on Oct. 11 unanimously approved a five-story, 116-unit mixed-use planned development for 1012 Chicago Ave.
The approval brought to a close a complex project that involved several years of discussion and will result in the ultimate replacement of a longtime business, Autobarn-Nissan at 1012 Chicago Ave., with the new development.
The project had a long run-up, with Richard Fisher, owner of the auto dealership, announcing early his plans for the project, inviting community comment on what residents would like to see as part of the redevelopment.
The street, once known as Evanston’s “Automobile Row” because of the cluster of auto dealerships there, has seen its own reshaping in the past few decades with the replacement of those businesses with residential developments.
The applicant, Stan Bernshteyn of MCZ Capital Ventures, had requested from the city a number of development allowances for the project, which lies in a commercial mixed-use zoning district.
The developer sought allowances to allow a rental building of 116 units where 78 are allowed; to build to a height of 80.5 feet where a 67-foot height is allowed; and to reduce the number of off-street parking spaces from 75 to 58, officials said. The project also includes 5,822 square feet of ground-floor retail.
Fleming asks about larger units
During Council discussion on Oct. 11, 9th Ward Council member Cicely Fleming took note of the developer’s compliance with the City’s Inclusionary Housing Ordinance. The ordinance requires the developer to make 10% of the dwelling units affordable for people whose income is 60% or less of the area median income.
The developer is providing 10 on-site inclusionary dwelling units, consisting of one studio, seven one-bedroom and two two-bedroom apartments, staff reported.
Fleming, whose ward is just to the south, asked whether there was any conversation during the process about increasing the number of two-bedroom units.
Council member Melissa Wynne, in whose Third Ward the site is located, said officials talked to the developers about their unit mix, “and I was very happy to see that they had a small number of studios and that they had more of a balanced mix.”
She said she is also very happy with the number of live-and-work units the developers are including, mixed-use spaces that allow for a business as well as housing for its owner or one or more employees.
Fleming also directed her question to Johanna Nyden, the city’s Community Development Director, about the inclusion of two-bedroom units “as we continue to learn about the need for larger units for families.”
Nyden said her department generally has a meeting with developers in advance of the city’s Design and Project Review Committee’s review of a project and said the unit mix was what the developer was able to provide in the project.
“Of course we always want more larger units,” Nyden said.
“We’re glad there [are] more one-bedrooms and not more studios, and we’re glad there are any two-bedroom units,” she added, “because sometimes developers don’t want to provide any two-bedroom units for affordable [housing].”
In such cases, Fleming responded, “that doesn’t mean we can’t ask for more.”
“As we continue to hear about the need for more affordable housing … as a city, we need to just push ourselves to not being glad that people are doing things and actually have requirements requiring the size of units more than just the number of units.
“I’ve sat here for four years, and we did a lot of studios and efficiencies and one-bedrooms and so on,” she said, “and so we are moving the needle with this one, but at this rate we’re just never going to get that far.”
Fleming suggested that it may be time for officials to look at the IHO and consider changes to “not just the percentage [of affordable units] but actually the size of units.”
“We have kind of the power here,” she said, “to make our standard higher.”
Nyden suggested that there will be an opportunity to do that, as the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance is due back before the Council for an update.
Altogether, of the 116 units in the 1012 Chicago Ave. project, she noted, 16 are studios, 80 are one-bedrooms, 12 are two-bedrooms and eight are live-work units.
Avoiding a ‘bloodbath’ over zoning
Wynne spoke of efforts to push the developer to meet the community’s needs.
“We met with the developer since very early in the shutdown and actually talked with them quite a bit,” she said. She said the discussions included the Chicago Avenue Corridor Plan, a planning document that lays out a longtime vision for the street.
As a result of the efforts, she said, “they pushed the building back off the property line; they adjusted for the fact that they don’t have an alley in the back – this backs up on the train tracks – and they were willing to listen to the staff about the live-work units, which we know are something also very desirable in the community.”
She pointed out that those units “are also far from the micro-units that we have seen a proliferation of in other parts of the city … and their rents are not what we would call luxury rents.”
“These are all things that were really important when I and the staff talked to these developers as they came in with their proposal,” Wynne said.
“I also made it really clear to them,” she said, “that we were not interested in having a zoning battle with them, that they really needed to pay attention to our zoning ordinance and to what our staff and what the community was saying to them if they really wanted to have a successful project.
“So there was quite a bit of discussion that happened and, frankly, because [with] this one, we are not having a bloodbath at P&D [the Council’s Planning and Development Committee] and the city over this, I think it’s a demonstration of the fact that we have some developers who are paying attention.”
On a vote of 9-0, the Council approved the development.