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Anyone who associates residential buildings for older adults as functional but dressed up in institutionally drab tones may be surprised by the 16-story, 152-unit high-rise headed for the edge of downtown Evanston.
On the way is “a beautiful, attractive, architecturally significant building,” predicted Richard Monocchio, Executive Director of the Housing Authority of Cook County (HACC), speaking of the building for older adults the authority has proposed for 1900 Sherman Ave.
Evanston City Council members voted 7-0 in support of the planned development at their Dec. 13 meeting, granting the developer’s request for substantial allowances in building height, floor-area ratio and parking.
HACC officials have made substantial changes to the proposal, first introduced in May 2019.
The high-rise is to go up just south of another HACC building for older adults at 1900 Sherman Ave., the 11-story 100-unit Jane R. Perlman Apartments.
In hearings on the proposal, residents living near the site leveled criticism about the zoning allowances the developers are receiving as well as the reduction in the number of affordable units from what HACC officials initially proposed.
The original proposal targeted three income groups: people with incomes at 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI) or less, referred to as “low-mod”; those with between 80% and 120% of AMI, sometimes referred to as the “missing middle,” and people with incomes above 120% AMI, referred to as being in the “market-rate” category.
In all, officials were looking at a breakdown of 36 market-rate units, 60 in the middle group and 24 low-mod units. In November of last year, HACC officials received council approval for a different configuration, with close to 100 units now at market rate.
Officials said the change was necessary for the project to be financially feasible.
At the Dec. 13 meeting, Monocchio, speaking over a video hookup, said the market-rate units are key to supporting the affordable housing the project will be providing – along with the aesthetics of the building, “I think more importantly, it’s going to have 51 affordable apartments out of 152,” he told Council members.
HACC’s proposal calls for providing 34 on-site affordable units (16 studio/convertible units and 18 one-bedroom units) affordable to households at 50% of AMI, exceeding the city’s inclusionary housing ordinance requirement that 20% of units be offered at 60% of AMI for a development with public financing. Additionally, the applicant has committed to providing 17 units at 80-120% of AMI, in excess of the city’s 20% inclusionary housing ordinance requirements.
Tenants in the lowest income group are going to be paying rent as low as $300 a month in the new building, he said. Residents in the other 17 units will pay rents at half the market-rate rent or less, he said.
“I want to remind people that we’re doing this without any government development subsidy,” he said. “So what we’re doing is building a building that has market-rate tenants, that’s true. But those market-rate tenants are in essence paying for the construction of the 51.”
“That’s groundbreaking,” he added.
But some residents, speaking earlier during the public comment portion of the meeting, pointed to some of what they saw as the project’s shortcomings, including a reduced number of on-site parking spaces.
HACC sought a waiver from the required number of below-grade parking spaces from 37 to 25. A speaker at the previous council meeting, Claire Waistell, observed that the new proposal would be providing just 25 spaces for a new 152-unit building. She said the county is then hoping to fill the rest of the city’s required 62 spaces by arranging parking at a nearby building.
Speaking during public comment at the Dec. 13 meeting, Cecile McHugh, another resident who lives close to the site, noted the new on-site parking falls short of what HACC was going to include in its initial 168-unit plan.
“The new on-site plan is to provide three net new on-site parking places for 152 new units, therefore planning to provide one net new on-site parking space for every 50 units in a senior living facility,” she observed.
HACC officials have said they are in talks with nearby developments, E2 and the Link, to provide additional parking at those sites. McHugh responded that “somehow seniors’ ability to safely walk two blocks away to E2 is assumed although that requires crossing an alley, an access drive used by garbage trucks,” to get to the parking areas.
“This has the potential to be especially dangerous in the dark and fall weather for seniors,” she said.
In council discussion, Council member Devon Reid, 8th Ward, who is a supporter of the project, expressed concern.
“I’m not a huge fan of parking minimums in government generally,” he said, “but this is particularly a building for folks who are seniors and disabled and I would just love to see more of those parking units kept on site.”
At an earlier Planning & Development meeting, William James, a consultant on the project, said fewer below-grade spaces were recommended after engineers examined the foundation of the Perlman building. As a result of their findings, he said, the design for the underground parking had to be reconfigured, resulting in fewer parking spaces that could be provided on site. An alternative would have been building the garage another level down, which would have been at an “astronomical cost that could impact the project severely, and might make it unfeasible,” he said.
Responding to the issue at the Dec. 13 meeting, Monocchio told Council members, “The last thing I wanted to do was reduce on-site parking, the last thing. Certainly I would like to have the underground parking, more spaces, but the fact of the matter is it doesn’t work.”