City Council To Rule On Central Street Site

Rebecca Huval

By Rebecca HuvalThe Daily Northwestern

The Evanston City Council could decide tonight whether to demolish a deteriorating landmark on an underdeveloped part of Central Street to make way for construction.

At tonight’s meeting, aldermen also will discuss changing a recently passed law that requires developers to include affordable housing in their buildings.

Developer Evanston Central I proposed a four-story retail and residential building in place of the historic house and theater at 1700 and 1722 Central St. The developer originally wanted to incorporate the house into its project but proposed demolishing the landmark to make its building shorter.

Residents said they were concerned about the height of the initially planned five-story structure.

“People want development, but they don’t want it too big, and they don’t want it anywhere near them,” Ald. Steven Bernstein (4th) said.

The Preservation Commission on Oct. 17 rejected plans to demolish the landmarks, and Evanston Central I is appealing that decision. The Plan Commission recommended against the developer, but the city staff supports the developer’s proposal.

“I hope we can move it forward,” Ald. Cheryl Wollin (1st) said. “(The proposal has) been there too long.”

The City Council spends too much time on developers, Wollin said. The developers have large sums of money at stake and need to move more quickly she said.

Aldermen said they were concerned about the developer’s proposed alleys. Alleys would be 13 feet, 8 inches wide – too narrow for a reasonable flow of traffic, they said.

The development is expected to add 43 vehicles to traffic during afternoon rush hour.

“I’m a little concerned about the traffic pattern, but overall I think it’s a good development,” Wollin said. “They’ve kept it to four stories, and I think that’s a reasonable amount.”

The developer attended neighborhood meetings and listened to residents’ opinions about the proposed project. There wasn’t enough support to preserve the landmarks, Evanston Central I representatives wrote in their report. The restored house wouldn’t be worth the cost of repairing it.

Responding to residents’ requests, the developer added more ground-floor retail space and decreased garage parking from 106 to 100 spots.

The council also will review an amendment to the inclusionary housing ordinance.

The amended ordinance would have developers set aside 10 percent of their units for affordable housing or pay the city a fee for each unit it doesn’t build. At least 3 percent of the units in the developer’s building would have to be set aside as affordable.

The ordinance, passed in October, initially required developers to pay $40,000 times 10 percent of the number of units in the complex to the city’s affordable housing fund. For instance, in a building with 100 units, a developer would have to pay $400,000.

Less than one month later, the Planning and Development Committee found that the ordinance broke federal and state laws because it didn’t require affordable housing on-site.

The proposed amendment would fix that. In December, the council voted 4-4 on the amendment while Ald. Delores Holmes (5th) was absent.

“I’m certainly supporting inclusionary housing, I’ll just have to see if I can live with the changes,” Holmes said. “It’s not a make-or-break deal for me that housing be on-site, but for some people it is. If that’s what it takes to pass the ordinance, then I will probably vote for it.”

Reach Rebecca Huval at [email protected]