A developer is making a second try on a proposal to build a mixed-use high-rise residential building at 1621-31 Chicago Ave., across from the Whole Foods store on Church Street. He has included an increased number of affordable units as one of the project’s major benefits.

Renderings of The Legacy

Developer Jeffrey Michael, Chief Operating Officer of the Horizon Realty Group, is proposing to build The Legacy, an 18-story 180-unit building just north of the firm’s The Merion retirement community.

The proposed development site currently includes a half dozen storefront businesses as well as the popular restaurant Found. At the meeting, Michael said the developers are in talks with some of the storefront spaces about including them in the new project. 

The same group’s nearly three-year effort to gain approval for a 17-story high-rise building at the site failed to advance out of a Council committee in October 2020, running into strong criticism of its mass and height. 

At a virtual First Ward meeting on Feb. 3, Michael said the proposed 18-story building would add more people to the downtown area where the population had been stagnant “to ensure that the restaurants that we love and the small businesses we support will remain, and that the new ones will fill our vacant storefronts. 

“The simple fact is Evanston needs more residents to support the business district,” he said, “and that’s what The Legacy is going to bring – more than 300 new residents living in the heart of Evanston’s business and shopping district , supporting the local economy every day.”  

As with the previous proposal, a number of speakers raised concerns about the incompatibility of the project with projects to the east, including First United Methodist Church, which sits across an alley from the proposed building. 

Grace Imathiu, Senior Pastor of First United Methodist, at 512 Church St., expressed concern that the church’s sacred space, which includes a courtyard and a memorial garden, will “be violated by that large building. “There is no way, no way we can escape it,” she said. “The building is just too tall. It’s beautiful. But it is out of place.”

Another member of the church community, William Brown, Chairman of the Board of Trustees at First United Methodist, maintained the proposed 18-story building “is completely overbearing on the adjacent historic built environment. It would be a mere 20 feet away from the church across what will be a congested alley. Frankly, it’s disturbing such a project would be considered for the east side of Chicago Avenue, where the buildings step down as they move towards the lake,” he said.

Bob Froetscher, another speaker, said before buying his condominium, which is located near the proposed development, “I checked and researched and understood the zoning requirements of this area,” he said. “This building violates those zoning requirements.”

He said he also checked the city’s 2009 Consolidated Plan, a document that the city drew up after researching best practices across cities in the U.S.

“And the conclusion was that [this] block should have buildings no taller than six to 10 stories,” he said. “If you look at the buildings, including The Merion, none of them are more than six to 10 stories,” he said. 

“There’s a reason for that. It [the area] is not just a business district, it’s a residential district. It is a community,” he said.

In his response, Michael noted that the developers necessarily have “to build a structure with enough units to have impact on the local economy and advance Evanston’s affordable housing goals.” 

He said the project will have significant economic impact, generating $1.5 million in overall new revenue, compared to the $100,000 in property tax revenue that currently comes from the property. 

He said the project would also add five more units of affordable housing as a public benefit, for a total of 18 units on site. That is a change from the group’s earlier proposal, where Horizon paid into an affordable housing fund to support affordable housing off site. 

Jonathan Perman, a consultant to Horizon and former Executive Director of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce, said the additional units will increase the number of affordable units in downtown Evanston by about 20%. 

“This will be the largest commitment ever of affordable housing in a market rate project in downtown Evanston,” he said.

Some members of the affordable housing community differed over the proposal’s benefit. 

Local activist Darlene Cannon, a Second Ward resident, acknowledged that some “affordable housing cheerleaders might offer commendations” over the move. 

“But the reality is that we have hundreds of homeless families in [School] District 65. We have families that need two, three, and even four bedrooms, and I can’t get up and cheer, because you’re going to give us one bedroom – that’s not going to give us what we need “ she said.

Sue Loellbach, Advocacy Manager for Connections for the Homeless, said, however, that she thought the affordable housing proposal for the building “looks pretty strong.” 

As the proposal evolves, she said, “I would love to see the affordability of those affordable units be as deep as possible. We’d really love to see some 50% [of market rates] units there. But you know, the deeper you can make the affordability, the better.” 

In response to a question, Michael said market rate rents in the new building are projected to be anywhere from $1,500 to $1,700 a month for a studio apartment, $1,900 to about $2,100 a month for a one-bedroom unit, and about $2,500 to $2,900 a month for a two-bedroom unit. 

At the meeting, Tina Paden, a downtown building owner, maintained the city does not need more housing to fill up its stores.

“We already have 5 billion luxury apartments,” she said. “We need stores, not apartments,” she maintained.

“What’s happening now is we have all these apartment buildings. And then people are taking their money to Skokie and Lincolnwood, because we don’t have any stores.” 

The project is still at an early stage. The developers must file an application for a planned development, which would kick off the public hearing process through various committees.

Final approval rests with the City Council.

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.

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  1. I sat in on this Zoom presentation. It showed many flaws in their plans. Such as it showed only 2 spaces for loading docks in the real of a very narrow alley. In the front their drawing show NO spaces for residents being dropped & picked up! All vehicles would have double park on Chicago Avenue. That would create a major problem for ALL VEHICLER TRAFFIC on north bound Chicago Avenue. As well as a major issue for any emergency vehicles access to the building!

  2. The Evanston I moved back to in 2017 is not the Evanston I left in 1993 with my young family. There are now any number of huge, overshadowing high rise condos, while businesses like Barnes & Noble, Vogue Fabrics (on Main), Good’s, countless restaurants, and Century Theaters (thankfully soon-to-be reincarnated as AMC), are now but a memory. Certainly, CoVid-19 has contributed to this, but I’m sure that other Evanstonians can easily name their own favorite landmark businesses that disappeared long before CoVid-19.

    I’m aware of progress; I support progress. But, the enrichment of opportunistic developers at the expense of true commitment to community is not progress. The promise of a few units of “affordable” housing to appease Council members is a transparent tactic that is a drop in the bucket to Evanston’s affordable housing problem. Nor will 300 new high rise condos become any business renaissance in downtown Evanston. People who can afford high rise downtown condos can afford to shop in the upscale boutique furniture, clothing, etc., etc. establishments elsewhere on the North Shore.

    I guess I should feel sorry for the condo owners who bought into the upper levels of 807 Davis (I call it the “wedding cake building”) and 1580 Sherman (the orange balconies across from the “wedding cake”), because if this proposed 18-storey building goes up, they will lose their view of the Lake and, perhaps, some property value. I hope they are banding together to oppose this new project.

  3. Your article states the location of this proposed building as south of the Merion. The restaurant “Found”, last time I drove by, is north of the Merion. I believe you meant to write “north of their Merion building. I also think that this is another proposal that does not satisfy our zoning ordinances, but no doubt in the search for higher and denser structures that pay more in revenue the Council will pass this one too. Developers also know if the first proposal doesn’t happen then they can propose some affordable housing units within the building to influence the council members, even though I would ask “affordable” for whom.

  4. This building is grossly out of scale. It doesn’t solve the larger problem of the need for more stores, more affordable housing and less luxury apartments. The council should problem solve the larger question before giving approval to a building which is simply designed to make money for the builder.

  5. This quote says it all for me: ““But the reality is that we have hundreds of homeless families in [School] District 65. We have families that need two, three, and even four bedrooms, and I can’t get up and cheer, because you’re going to give us one bedroom – that’s not going to give us what we need “ she said”.

    I don’t want to discount the need and efficacy of single bedroom affordable units. Also needed! But when you look at this project all around, it’s not looking like a good choice. As I’m almost always on the opposing side of whatever the city council gives approval to when it comes to new buildings (and their scope/size), there’s a decent chance this will pass.