The choice to allow a local developer to convert the long-unused assisted-living facility at 1555 Oak Avenue—colloquially  known as the Museum Residences on Oak or the King Home—into an apartment hotel now heads for final approval to the City Council.

On Wednesday, Jan. 11, the Land Use Commission approved the special use permit for the project. 

Cameel Halim, property owner, requests a special use permit for an Apartment Hotel at 1555 Oak Ave. Credit: City of Evanston

The Commission proffered its approval with some hesitation, however—the vote was 3-2, even though all the Commissioners present registered approval for the bones of the project.

Rather, two commissioners, including Board Chair Matt Rodgers and Kristine Westerberg, questioned how the apartment hotel designation applied when developers are targeting having up to 100% of the 67 units occupied by transient residents rather than permanent ones. 

Cameel Halim, property owner, requests a special use permit for an Apartment Hotel at 1555 Oak Ave. Credit: City of Evanston

An “apartment hotel,” in contrast, would seemingly have a substantial percentage of permanent residents. Rodgers and Westerberg questioned how the plans for 1555 Oak Ave. would not be appropriate for designating it as just a “hotel.”

Attorney Alan Didesch, representing petitioner Cameel Halim, a Wilmette-based investor, noted that the City’s definition of an apartment hotel only required a minimum of dwelling units – at least 25% – to be occupied by transient guests for the designation.

The code does not indicate a maximum percentage of transient guest-occupied units, leaving the developer in this case free to market for 100% transient resident occupancy.  

Rogers asked, “If you don’t have apartments in an apartment hotel, how is this an apartment hotel?”

Cameel Halim, property owner, requests a special use permit for an Apartment Hotel at 1555 Oak Ave. Credit: City of Evanston

Commissioner George Halik said he was “pleasantly surprised” that the zoning code included an apartment hotel designation, so that the project could get put to use quicker; a hotel proposal would not be allowed in a residential district.

Commissioner Jeanne Lindwall agreed, adding, “The applicant could have just as easily asked the property to be rezoned.”

Halim purchased the property in 2017, intending to make improvements for a new assisted living property, but the COVID-19 pandemic squelched those plans. The Commissioners largely praised the proposal that would breathe new life into a large vacant structure with limited aesthetic merit. 

“It’s midcentury, but not Mies Van Der Rohe midcentury,” said Rodgers. 

He further emphasized that his negative vote was intended to reflect the letter of the code, but not the merits of the proposal: “Its vacancy is noticeable to the neighborhood and the city… To give it new life and make it feel like it has a new purpose [is something] I’m all for.”

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