Parking, space add to housing committee’s impasse

Matt Presser

A special committee was supposed to come to an agreement Tuesday night on a contested Evanston affordable-housing development.

But the only agreement that came out of the meeting was that a consensus hadn’t been reached.

The special committee was formed during an April 11 Evanston City Council Planning and Development Committee meeting. It was set up to discuss a development that would include 27 housing units in a four-story building at the intersection of Church Street and Darrow Avenue.

The Planning Commission originally rejected the proposal and recommended it be presented to the Planning and Development Committee on March 27.

The committee was designed as a forum for four aldermen – three supporters of the proposal and three opponents – to meet weekly. At Tuesday night’s meeting, two aldermen were absent and one supporter was replaced by a substitute.

Ald. Delores Holmes (5th), the committee chairwoman, started the meeting by trying to gauge where the other committee members stood after four meetings.

“Where are you? What do you think? What can we do?” she asked.

It wasn’t long before citizens and the developers began voicing the same concerns they have brought forth since the beginning.

“None of my concerns have been adequately addressed,” said Carlis Sutton, a committee member who opposed the proposal. “We still shouldn’t be sitting here in May thinking community input is going to be encouraged (if) it is being ignored.”

Richard Koenig, a committee member who represents the developers, the Housing Opportunity Development Corporation, responded by saying the “proposal “has become much, much stronger.”

“This isn’t a proposal that I dreamed up one day, ” he said. “This is a way to get to a goal.”

Concerns raised by opponents included the number of parking spaces and the proposed condominium’s large size in relation to neighboring buildings.

Citizens called for the developers to cut down the number of units, but Koenig pointed out that they already reduced the number of units from 42 to a number that is “financially feasible.”

“I recognize the neighbors are saying that the building has too many units, but it’s really a balancing act,” Koenig said. “We’re already 15 units below what any other developer could come in and do.”

Opponents of the proposal identified a perceived lack of parking spaces at the building and suggested developers either find a way to increase parking or reduce the number of units so that there are enough spots.

“I think parking is absolutely critical,” said Ald. Ann Rainey (8th), who attended the meeting even though she doesn’t serve on the committee. “I don’t think just because people aren’t making a gazillion dollars a year means they don’t have the cars (to get to where they need to go).”

The committee also discussed the possibility of adding underground parking, but aldermen thought such a prospect would be too expensive.

Those at the meeting also spoke about use of space on the building’s first floor. Committee members discussed the possibility of putting in a library, commercial space or an empty community room, although no consensus was reached.

Two hours after the meeting started, the attendees – and the committee members – grew impatient. Many audience members, including Rainey, left the meeting, as did Ald. Elizabeth Tisdahl (7th), one of the committee’s aldermen.

“If we can’t come to a consensus, we can simply tell the committee that we’ve discussed it and discussed it and discussed it and we’ve not come up with a consensus,” Holmes said.

The committee will meet again Friday to draft a report to be given to the Planning and Development Committee at its next meeting on May 22.

Reach Matt Presser at [email protected]