The next steps for a large-scale redevelopment of the block currently occupied by Mt. Pisgah Ministry and a vacant lot in Evanston’s Fifth Ward—which entails a land-swap between the church and the city—will be determined at the Land Use Commission’s Feb. 8 meeting.

Architectural drawings of the proposed building.

The continuance came at the Wednesday, Jan. 11, meeting where the Commission determined that local stakeholders need to be engaged in additional conversations about the move.

“This is a major project in this neighborhood, and I think there’s been some gaps in communication,” said Commission Chair Matt Rodgers. 

The project comprises two interconnected proposals, each nevertheless undergoing its own separate development process. Mt. Pisgah plans to erect a new two-story building, while Skokie-based Housing Opportunity Development Corporation (HODC) would mount an adjoining 44-unit affordable housing project. 

Mt. Pisgah owns the property at 1813-15 Church St., while the City of Evanston owns 1805 Church St. and 1708-10 Darrow Ave.

The plans

Mt. Pisgah’s new building would feature a 200-person worship space, a fellowship space and meeting and conference facilities. The project would also house about 3,000- square feet of retail space. 

Architectural drawings of the proposed building.

The two petitioners, should the proposals go through, would obtain that long-vacant lot adjacent to Mt. Pisgah from the City. Logistical considerations dictate that the lots would be swapped: The new church would be located where the vacant lot is now, while the apartment building would be where the church now stands.

The church, represented at the meeting by Pastor Clifford Wilson, and HOAC, represented by Richard Koenig, the organization’s executive director, have numerous logistical hurdles; the project entails five plots of land and requires well over a dozen variances. Total cost would be about $22 million. 

Both Wilson and Koenig maintained that the community needed the affordable housing options.

“The goal is to provide high quality, affordable housing for Evanston residents, and revitalize that part of the block,” said Koenig. 

According to Koenig, the five-story development would contain:

  • 13 one-bedroom apartments, each renting for between $600-800 a month;
  • 20 two-bedroom apartments renting for between $700-900 a month; and
  • 11 three-bedroom apartments renting for between $900-1,100 a month.

Income would be the prime determining factor of eligibility for residency; residents will make less that 60% of the area median income. 

But several neighbors at the Jan. 11 meeting were against the project, largely because of what several contended was an opaque planning process. 

“I believe that this building is being shoved down our throats,” said audience member Tina Paden.

“…This land from the City of Evanston was supposed to be discussed with the citizens. Instead it was discussed with the church, the developers and the alderman [Council Member Bobby Burns, 5th Ward], and it was handed to us.”

Koenig later listed a number of neighborhood and virtual meetings that took place about the proposals, while Wilson maintained that he had “never seen any of my neighbors until tonight.”

Koenig also noted that plans published on the city’s development website and displayed at community meetings were largely consistent with the final proposal. That final proposal, however, was not published by the city until the Jan. 11 Land Use meeting packet came out five days prior to the meeting. 

The project did have some defenders, among them affordable housing advocate Keith Banks, who called the project a “good recipe” that would “cure a lot of ills.”

He added, “The demand is high—to have 44 units makes a small dent but it would have huge impact.”

Healthcare attorney Erin Jackson, whose firm is located at the neighboring 1817 Church St., proposed the continuance.

She said that they “supported the spirit” of the project and had no objections to an affordable housing development. The firm members did, however, have concerns about sustaining damage—especially water damage on their lowest level, which they have already encountered—during construction. The approach planned by the petitioners, Jackson maintained, “will adversely affect the neighborhood.”  

Jackson asked for three months to allow time to meet with the petitioners to develop an amenable arrangement for the project. Rodgers balked at that length of time however, and proposed the new Feb. 8 date. He encouraged the stakeholders to meet and work out their differences. 

“I think there needs to be a public meeting,” he said. “…I would just like to see some discussion occur.”   

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