A rendering of South Boulevard Shores, a 60-unit residential building proposed for 504-514 South Blvd. Credit: PIRHL Developers, LLC

The city’s Land Use Commission gave its official – though conditional – support to a planned 60-unit affordable housing development on South Boulevard Wednesday evening.

Commissioners voted 5-1 and 6-0 respectively to recommend City Council approve the planned development and a concurrent zoning map amendment. The development is planned for 504-514 South Boulevard, currently occupied by a city parking lot and four townhomes owned and managed by the Housing Authority of Cook County.

The city and HACC first began coordinating the project in 2017, and issued a joint request for proposals in April 2021. City Council selected PIRHL Developers for the project in February 2022, and community meetings were held to discuss the project in October 2022 and on Aug. 31, 2023.

The proposed five-story building, named “South Boulevard Shores,” would have 60 housing units ranging from one-bedroom apartments to two-story three-bedroom townhomes. Eighteen of those units would be rented in HACC’s Project-Based Vouchers program, which provides low-income tenants with rental subsidies to ensure their rent doesn’t exceed 30% of their income. The remaining 42 units would be rented below market rates to households earning up to 80% of Cook County’s area median income, equal to just over $88,000 for a family of four.

This means all 60 units legally qualify as affordable.

Proposed floor plans for two-bedroom and one-bedroom apartments in South Boulevard Shores. Credit: PIRHL Developers, LLC

During the hearing, PIRHL Senior Vice President Johana Casanova told commissioners the affordable rents are possible because the project is partly financed through a Low-Income Housing Tax Credit awarded by the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA).

Concern about congestion

This tax credit took a central role in the hearing, as it directly impacts two variances PIRHL is requesting: a 25% density increase over the maximum 48 units, and a building height of 62 feet, exceeding the maximum of 50 feet.

While most people commenting were supportive of the project, some voiced concerns about the building’s high density in an already-dense neighborhood. Resident Rosemary Armocida said that in its current state, the development would be disruptive to traffic and parking on South Boulevard and nearby Chicago Avenue.

“People are scrambling to find a place to park their car right now, and it’s 60 units, but that is maybe 180 people,” Armocida said. “It’s not even the people, it’s really the parking and the traffic, the influx concentrated in that one area, just seems really problematic to me.”

Casanova said the tax credit “is definitely tied to the unit count,” meaning a reduction would threaten the credit and the project’s overall financing. Consequently, PIRHL’s design is five stories and 62 feet tall to fit 60 units in the lot’s available space.

Architectural drawings show the proposed height and exterior of South Boulevard Shores. Credit: PIRHL Developers, LLC

“In the unit count, we definitely assessed early on with the city the need, the site location, also even expanding to allow for less height,” Casanova said. “So we are willing to work on the height where we can, engineering-wise.”

During deliberation, commissioner George Halik said from prior experience working on similar projects, he thinks it’s “amazing” and “a real honor” that PIRHL received the IHDA tax credit over competing projects. He also agreed with Casanova’s assessment that reducing the number of units could threaten the project’s viability.

“Once you start saying, ‘Oh, let’s not do 60, let’s do 40 units,’ or whatever, that just throws the whole equation off,” Halik said. “It probably would kill the project … at this point, the equation doesn’t allow it, is my belief.”

Conditions of support

The commission did, however, set several conditions on their recommendation to approve the project.

One sticking point was the design’s lack of a dedicated loading area for moving in and out of the building. Architect Tiffany Ackerman told commissioners residents could park moving trucks in the building’s parking spaces and aisles, and Casanova said adding a loading area would probably mean reducing the number of parking spaces, almost a third of which are reserved for the city to use as a public lot.

A top-down rendering of the South Boulevard Shores proposal shows the building’s shape along South Boulevard as well as an adjoining parking lot between the building and an alleyway. Credit: PIRHL Developers, LLC

Later during deliberations, Commissioner Kristine Westerberg said the lack of a loading area is “just not acceptable,” noting that the commission had “been through this before” with previous developments. The commission ultimately agreed and attached a condition of including a loading area to their recommendation.

Another condition is that the building must comply with Evanston’s Green Building Ordinance and meet either LEED Gold certification or an equivalent environmental standard. Rather than pursue LEED certification like most developments, the South Boulevard project will pursue a net-zero certification through Enterprise Green Community’s Certification Plus as part of its tax credit from IHDA.

Ackerman said part of the net-zero strategy will be powering the building using solar power, either by installing solar panels on the roof, signing a power purchase agreement or both. Later, after a resident asked why the project wasn’t committed to immediately having solar panels once open, Casanova said PIRHL’s team wants to keep options open in order to find the best solar arrangement possible.

“We will put solar panels [on the roof]. The reason why we didn’t say from day one is because there’s so many options we have with solar,” Casanova said. “The goal is not just to put them [there], it’s to create and generate the best energy for the site.”

The project will next be introduced to the City Council’s Planning and Development Committee on Sept. 26. If approved, it will go to a final vote by the full City Council on Oct. 9.

Alex Harrison reports on local government, public safety, developments, town-gown relations and more for the RoundTable. He graduated from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism in June...

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