Developers shift gears for proposed 831 Emerson


Daily file photo by Daniel Tian

Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) attends a council meeting. Fiske said she was pleased the developers of 831 Emerson were going to present plans reflective of the community’s concerns.

Nora Shelly, City Editor

After plans to build a student housing complex at 831 Emerson St. were shot down last year, the property’s developers are coming back to the city with a plan for a multi-use building.

In the fall of 2015, developers Focus Development Group and CA Ventures proposed building a 12-story high-rise on a property just west of the intersection of Emerson Street and Sherman Avenue. The plan at the time was to market the building toward students — offering meeting spaces and leasing per bedroom, rather than for an entire apartment.

However, the plan was vehemently opposed by residents of the area, particularly those who live in the nearby Sherman Gardens apartment building. The new plans, which are undergoing a zoning analysis and have not yet been officially submitted to the city, call for a shorter building than was originally proposed.

Community members were most concerned that the initial building would overwhelm traffic in the area and that units would go mostly unrented after Northwestern implements a two-year live-in requirement.

Ald. Judy Fiske (1st), whose ward encompasses the property, said though she did not know much about the new plans, she was pleased the developers were going to present plans reflective of the community’s concerns. The developers had attended community meetings addressing the topic, Fiske said.

“They heard what everyone had to say, and I think it made an impression on them,” she said. “I’m glad that it looks like it’s going to be a more inclusive building than it was before.”

The developers had originally proposed a 267-bed complex. The current preliminary plans call for a 9-story building with 235 units. Most will be studios, but the plans also include a mix of two and three bedroom apartments, said Kendall Lettinga, vice president of sales and marketing at Focus Development.

Struan Robertson, a vice president at CA Ventures, echoed Fiske’s statement, saying the developers had taken into consideration the residents’ concerns that the building would be mostly for student use. The debate over the building in City Council kicked off a “planning process” for the area surrounding the property.

Fiske, along with some city staff members, gathered neighborhood residents and business owners to discuss the possibility of extending downtown Evanston north to encompass the Foster Street CTA station — an area which would include 831 Emerson and the surrounding block. The plan, which has yet to receive council approval, would guide zoning and construction of the area in an effort to diminish downtown density.

Robertson said the meetings informed the resubmitted plans.

“We’ve taken the time to go to the community meetings and let the city evaluate that area,” he said. “We took a step back and let that process play through, to see what the community and city staff and everyone else presented and what kind of development they want to see in that area.”

There is no clear timeline for the plan’s progression through council, but Fiske said she expected they will decide on the plans sometime within the year.

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