Aldermen vote to approve development at 831 Emerson


Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) watches a speaker at an Evanston city council meeting. A proposed nine-story building in the 1st Ward was approved by aldermen Monday, though Fiske voted against the proposal.

Kristina Karisch, Reporter

After more than a year’s worth of discussion, aldermen approved a proposed development project at 831 Emerson St. during Monday’s City Council meeting.

The ordinance will grant a special use approval for the project, which was introduced as a part of a plan to expand Evanston’s downtown area, which currently extends from Ridge Avenue east to Hinman Avenue and from Lake Street north to Emerson Street.

The project’s developers — Focus Development, Inc. and CA Ventures —  have proposed a 9-story, 242-unit residential building which would include 3,300 square-feet of ground floor commercial space and 174 parking spaces on site.

The new building would replace the existing two-story commercial building that houses a 7-Eleven convenience store. The existing 7-Eleven is expected to remain in the building and move into a new space on the site.

Aldermen supported the project Monday night in part because of two new changes to the plan: a 3.5-foot setback from the front property line to prevent a so-called “canyon effect” and a pledge from the developers to invest $2.4 million into the city’s affordable housing fund.

Ald. Judy Fiske (1st), whose ward encompasses an area within the proposed expansion, voted against the project at the City Council meeting. Fiske said she thinks the canyon is not wide enough and that more changes should be made before the building is developed.

“I would like to work with the developer to get this right,” Fiske said. “I’m kind of confused that when we gave them this much time it was all they could come up with.

Susan Wolin — who lives at the Sherman Garden co-operative apartments near the proposed site on Emerson — said at an April council meeting that she was concerned with the building being a “student-focused development” due to its potential for noise disturbances and “problems with student behavior.”

During the course of negotiations, the building evolved from a 14-story high-rise primarily targeted at Northwestern students to the current, revised plan. Still, Wolin said in April that this revision would not be enough to change the nature of the building’s occupants.

“I would argue that, in effect, the proposed development will end up functioning as a high-end dormitory, attracting affluent students,” she said in April. “The proposed project is targeting an affluent rental market that is already well served in Evanston.”

Ald. Robin Rue Simmons (5th) and Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) both stressed the importance of the affordable housing fund in Evanston and said the developers’ promise to support it influenced their own support of the project.

“We all talk about wanting to expand affordable housing,” Simmons said. “I think this is a great way to start to address that.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @kristinakarisch