A rendering shows the proposed Legacy Evanston, 1621-1631 Chicago Ave. Credit: Supplied

The Evanston Land Use Commission voted 7-0 on Wednesday not to recommend the City Council move ahead on the long-gestating and highly contentious Legacy Evanston mixed-use proposal for 1621-31 Chicago Ave.

While commissioners praised the intentions and scope of the project, now proceeding through its second application process, all said it did not belong at that particular part of Chicago Avenue, which is zoned to signify a transition between downtown and single family homes on the opposite side of the block.

“If this building was located on the opposite side of Chicago Avenue, I think it would be more keeping in character,” said Matt Rodgers, the commission’s chair.

The proposal now goes to a final vote from the Evanston City Council – though just before the commission’s vote, the developers, Chicago-based Horizon Realty Group, asked for a continuance to consider comments from the commission and the public.

The commissioners decided to hold their vote and then let the developers decide whether to rework the proposal prior to the City Council vote or file a new application.

Legacy Evanston is currently envisioned as an 18-story mixed-used residential building with 7,159 square feet of ground floor commercial space, according to city records. The building would feature 180 dwelling units, 18 of which would be deemed affordable housing, and 57 parking spaces. The building would be slightly taller than 195 feet.

Horizon would privately finance the venture. The company purchased The Merion at 1611 Chicago Ave. in 2012 and owns and operates about 2,400 units throughout the Chicago area.

Early in the meeting, Horizon Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Michael said that the project would take the current location from “functional obsolescence” to being a “crown jewel” for downtown Evanston.

He noted that affordable housing is a high priority for the city, and suggested that approving Legacy would let the city “put their money where their mouth is, with affordable housing in a great location.”

Evanston’s affordable housing rules allowed Horizon to expand the number of units envisioned for the building, which in turn allowed it to cover various sunken costs, Michael said. Initially planned with 128 units, Horizon dedicated 10% – 13 units – as affordable. The city allows developers to add four additional units for each affordable unit they offer. Thus, Horizon could add 52 more units for a total of 180.

Plans show the location, in red, of the proposed Legacy Evanston, 1621-1631 Chicago Ave. Credit: Supplied

Numerous zoning variances would be needed for the Legacy’s height and number of dwelling units and parking spaces, among other matters. The proposal has drawn criticism from numerous First Ward residents, among them First Ward City Council Member Clare Kelly, who has been especially vocal about the venture. Kelly attended the Sept. 14 meeting but did not address the commission.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Evanston resident Robert Froetscher said, “Every developer that follows, wanting to build their own 18-story building on this block, would point to this building as a precedent.”

The Rev. Grace Imathiu of First United Methodist Church, said, “The developers know that they don’t meet the standard. Great project, wrong location.”

Residents also cited potential problems with traffic and deliveries as among their concerns. Horizon’s initial proposal called for a 28-story building, but Commissioner Kristine Westerberg said that, even at the currently proposed 18 stories, “it still seems like it stands out” at the location.

“Generally, I believe that this particular project is too dense and too tall,” added Commissioner Jeanne Lindwall.

Should Horizon continue with its proposal, it will go before the City Council within the next 60 days.

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  1. Based on the illustrations with this story, the proposed building is much too tall for the context. People who tout it as having the potential for becoming a “crown jewel” for downtown Evanston should remember that not all crown jewels stick up far above the rest. In the reporting on the death of Queen Elizabeth II, TV stories have shown viewers many views of her several bejeweled crowns. Only a small number of the British crown jewels stick up high. Most are arranged on a horizontal band.
    In thinking about zoning variances for a number of years, I’ve come to the opinion that nearly all of the requests for them should be denied. Developers ought to take the existing zoning and building codes as part of what they should accept and adapt to. If they don’t want to work within these existing codes, they should find a location for their great idea which doesn’t have codes they can’t accept.

  2. In anticipation of getting approval Mr. Michaels did not renew the leases for the businesses on the block. Found, Prairie Moon, and tapas Barcelona will all be gone in the next few months for nothing.

    1. Could there not have been better planning and better communication to avoid losing THREE businesses in downtown Evanston? The “For Lease” and “For Rent” signs in Evanston are disheartening. Downtown is hardly the energetic, inviting place it once was. How wonderful it would be to see a plan for the re-vitalization to make our downtown Evanston be a location easy (at no cost) to park, be safe, and be teaming with shops and restaurants that invites a diversity of people–including our NU neighbors.

      What can we do to stop this ‘exodus’ of stores and restaurants in our community? This monstrous edifice in the 1600 block of Chicago Avenue had no place in our downtown. Bring back vibrancy to Evanston’s downtown (and keep our north and south business districts ‘healthy’, too) !

      And may the council be wisely directed to think hard about every time someone or some business wants to plant another tall building with minimal parking available, in our community – let’s be quite cautious and thoughtful about such decisions. A long-term plan for an attractive, affordable, pleasant, appealing downtown (and general business districts) Evanston should be designed and well-executed. Let’s lift Evanston to be a fantastic destination for surrounding populations and communities!

      1. As I said above. On the other side of the ally, east of this property are NOT single-family homes but apartment buildings. Our downtown is in a downward cycle with all the vacancies. Heaven forbid that we move more people into the downtown area to help revitalize it. I think the city should just buy the property and either put up a park or homeless shelter and take it off the tax rolls entirely. Hey, look at all the money siphoned off for the Washington National TIF district

    2. Tapas Barcelona is attached to the Marion and not going anywhere. On the other side of the ally, east of this property are NOT single-family homes but apartment buildings. Our downtown is in a downward cycle with all the vacancies. Heaven forbid that we move more people into the downtown area to help revitalize it. I think the city should just buy the property and either put up a park,or homeless shelter and take it off the tax rolls entirely. Hey, look at all the money syphoned of for the Washington National TIF district