Evanston Plan Commission votes against 33-story Davis Street apartment tower


Daily file photo by Jake Holland

Dale Bradley, who works in Evanston, voices his approval of a proposed 33-story building at an Oct. 10 Special Preservation Commission meeting. Despite unanimous approval from the Evanston Preservation Commission, the city’s Plan Commission unanimously voted against recommending the development.

Amy Li, Reporter

Members of Evanston’s Plan Commission unanimously voted against a 33-story apartment tower proposal Wednesday due to concerns about its size and parking.

The vote stands in stark contrast to the overwhelming support the development plan received from the Preservation Commission on Oct. 10. The building — which would be located at 601 Davis St. — would be one of the city’s tallest buildings and is trumped only by a pending 37-story tower proposal from Northlight Theatre.

Vermilion Development, the real estate company that proposed the Davis Street tower, intends for the building to occupy the Chase Bank drive-through and the adjacent, vacant parking lot to revitalize an under-utilized site in downtown Evanston, said Dave Cocagne, Vermilion’s president and CEO.

But Plan Commission members and several Evanston residents were worried about the enormity of the proposed building and the fact that it doesn’t fulfill several Evanston zoning code requirements.

Vermilion seeks approval of eight variances, which are reliefs from district zoning code requirements. They include allowing the building to consist of 318 dwelling units where 93 are allowed, a Floor Area Ratio of 12.28 where 8.0 is allowed, a building height — not including parking level — of 313 feet where 83 feet is allowed, 176 on-site parking spaces where 267 is required and the construction of a prohibited curb cut on Davis Street.

“It is troubling that we set numbers and we’re still getting requests for variations to those amounts,” Plan Commission member Peter Isaac said.

Ivan Hall said he is keen on upholding Evanston’s small-town personality. He and several other residents said the development would be architecturally inconsistent with surrounding structures.

“Vibrancy from the downtown comes from people, not buildings,” Hall said. “As far as Evanston being a place of character, we’re losing it quickly.”

Furthermore, Evanston resident Clare Kelly said she was worried about the adverse effects luxury buildings would have on affordable housing for low-income and middle-income families. She compared the boom in high-rise developments to “gentrification on steroids.”

However, Devon Patterson, principal of Solomon Cordwell Buenz — an architecture and design firm also working on the Davis Street tower — said sizing down would make the apartment complex financially unviable.

Patterson said he also believes the development will become an economic catalyst for the city and boost retail. The building will consist of a level dedicated to retail and four to parking in addition to residential floors.

Later in the meeting, residents and developers also clashed over the issue of parking and increased congestion around the intersection of Davis Street and Chicago Avenue. Community members said they were upset the development only proposed 176 on-site parking spaces as opposed to the 267 required by the zoning code.

Kyle Smith, planning director of the Antero Group and a parking consultant for the development, cited several parking studies conducted in Evanston and assured the commission and community members that the number of parking spaces is appropriate for the building’s target demographic of renters under 35 and over 65.

At peak parking demand between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. Mondays through Thursdays, Smith said studies estimate that only 158 to 174 parking spaces will be occupied.

Patterson said Vermilion wants to create a community-focused downtown destination, and the 601 Davis block is at the heart of the walkable area of downtown Evanston. Other community members spoke out in favor of the development.

“I remember as a boy scout, looking up at that lighthouse and looked at Evanston, and it’s changed,” said Christopher Botti, a 50-year Evanston resident and commercial real estate agent. “Things change. Zoning has to change to go along with it too.”

Ultimately, the Plan Commission decided that the public benefit of building will not compensate for the number of variances the development will require. The recommendation for denial will go on to City Council for further processing.

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