Proposed residential developments along Main Street draw mixed reactions


Colin Boyle/Daily Senior Staffer

727 Main St. Proposals to build housing at this property and at 912 Custer Ave. were met with mixed reactions from local business owners.

Clare Proctor, Assistant City Editor

Proposals to develop residential units along Main Street have been met with mixed reactions from local business owners. Some argue additional housing would attract more business to the area, but other merchants are concerned about losing parking.

Developers William Rotolo and Martin Murray have made proposals to build housing at two different properties — 912 Custer Ave., formerly Dard Products, Inc., and 727 Main St., a city parking lot. The developments would provide 80 new housing units, a combination of townhouses and apartments, including 16 affordable housing units, said Paul Zalmezak, the city’s economic development manager.

Adding residential housing would increase business along Main Street, he said.

“West of the (train) tracks becomes a little sleepier,” Zalmezak said. “There isn’t as much density. Adding residential density to the west side kind of enlivens the street a little bit more with more people living there.”

The developments would fall within the Main-Dempster Mile business district. Businesses in the area have had mixed reactions to the proposals, said Katherine Gotsick, the business district’s executive director.

These housing developments would add consumers in the area, which would benefit restaurants and coffee shops who primarily receive local customers, Gotsick said. But many businesses are concerned losing the lot would leave insufficient parking for patrons. Construction for developments would also disrupt business, she said.

Merchants on the Main-Dempster Mile have voiced their concerns to the developers and aldermen in both public and private meetings this month.

“We’re trying to make sure that the developers are educated on what will be good and what will be bad for the local business,” Gotsick said.

Gotsick said she anticipates “many more opportunities for people to speak up” as the development proposals advance.

The city is “sensitive” to how losing the parking lot would affect businesses in the area, Zalmezak said.

“We’re not moving quickly on that,” he said. “We need to really step back and think about how we address parking.”

The developers have submitted zoning analyses for the two properties, which were completed in July and September, said Scott Mangum, the city’s planning and zoning administrator.

The next step will be for the developers to review the analyses and adjust their proposals, he said.

“(We) tell them where they meet code requirements and where there are deficiencies or where site development allowances would be required in order to develop it,” Mangum said. “Typically, the developer will review those comments and come back with a revised project.”

Zalmezak said he expects developers to proceed with the Custer Avenue proposal first because it is a “straightforward private land sale” with Dard Products, Inc.

Townhouses — the units proposed to be built at this property — are a rare housing option in Evanston, Zalmezak said, so adding townhouse units would meet a demand present in the city.

“Any residential density that we could kind of commit to, kind of between Sherman and Custer, along that block, only helps drive business on Main Street,” he said.

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