Members of Evanston’s Land Use Commission issued both a recommendation for a modification to the facade of the Ann Rainey Apartments, 999-1015 Howard St., at its Wednesday, Aug. 24 meeting, but only after deliberations on what constitutes major and minor changes to a building, and what exact responsibilities developers have to deliver finished products that closely match proposals.

David Block, Director of Development for Evergreen, in 2021 with Eighth Ward Alderman Ann Rainey, for whom the new apartment building is being named. Credit: Genie Lemieux, Evanston Photographic Studios

Developer David Block of Chicago-based Evergreen Real Estate Group asked the Commission for a major adjustment approval for changes to exterior the Ann Rainey Apartments. Block needs that approval from the City to get a final certificate of occupancy from the City, which he also needs to settle the building’s financing.

Nearly full already, the Ann Rainey Apartments are senior affordable housing named after a former Evanston Council member who served for 34 years. Initially budgeted at $18.1 million, the building, now operating with a temporary certificate of occupancy, is home primarily to low-income seniors. The final budget was about $19 million, according to Block.

Initial plans called for the southwest façade of the building having decorative wood panel elements wrapped around the building.

But due to supply-chain issues within construction industries during the COVID pandemic, Block said, the cost of the panels grew more expensive as construction progressed. Lead times on orders for materials grew longer as well. As such, Block utilized a simpler design that included smaller wood panels attached to metal brackets.

He called the alterations necessary thanks to “the most challenging design and construction problems we have encountered in our developing careers.”

He considered the changes to be minor since they were mainly aesthetic. He also admitted to inadequately communicating to both nearby residents and the City about the change earlier.

When minor becomes major

But a quirk in the Evanston building codes has the City designating six fairly narrow categories of changes as being “minor,” and every change—even aesthetic ones—falling outside those parameters as “major.” Block’s alterations fell into the “major” category, according to the City.

To the left, are the initial drawings of the Ann Rainey Apartments. On the right, is the actual building.

Though the Commissioners unanimously approved the recommendation, all deliberated about this situation wherein they were asked to approve a change that had already been made. 

Commissioner George Halik said that the changes were fine, but suggested that Block had put the Commission in a difficult spot since the building was already built.

He asserted that the key issue is communication between the City and developers and questioned what might happen should another developer undertake significant changes after City approvals had already taken place.

Commissioner Max Puchtel asked Block whether he could have just simply waited for the correct materials to become available. Block responded that completing his financing was contingent on the final certificate of occupancy, and the financing collapsing would be likely be catastrophic for the building and its residents.

After the deliberations and vote, Commission Chair Matt Rodgers, who recused himself from the discussion due to his involvement with the project, asked City staff to issue recommendations about how changes to developments are classified.  

The Commission also issued a recommendation for a text amendment allowing restaurants as an eligible use in Mixed-Use Employment Districts (MXE). MXE, according to City filings, are “intended to address those distinctive areas in Evanston where manufacturing and industrial uses have coexisted with residential uses in a manner in which neither has been affected adversely.”

The MXE amendment recommendation was in anticipation of a local business, Soul & Smoke, 1601 Payne St., wishing to expand into a full-service restaurant and was initially proposed by City Council member Bobby Burns (5th Ward).