Aldermen place planned Chicago Avenue development on hold, requesting more details


Noah Frick-Alofs/Daily Senior Staffer

Ald. Donald Wilson (4th) speaks at a City Council meeting. Wilson said he did not feel comfortable moving forward with the proposed Chicago Avenue development until the city added a clause in the contract specifying what would happen if the project failed

Cassidy Wang, Reporter

Aldermen voted 6-3 to place on hold an ordinance requesting a special use permit and a zoning map amendment for a planned development on Chicago Avenue at a Monday City Council meeting.

The planned development — a 13-story office space set to be located at 1714-1720 Chicago Ave. — would require a special use permit and area zoning amendment that would result in the “most intense development within the city,” according to city documents.

After many Evanston residents expressed concerns about the planned development, ranging from potential issues about safety to traffic to encroachment on historical properties, aldermen decided to request more information from the building’s developers and an updated contract containing more specifications about the plans.

Ald. Donald Wilson (4th) said he did not feel comfortable moving forward with the ordinance in case the property ends up being sold, but for whatever unforeseen reason, the development does not proceed.

“If we change the zoning, the property is sold and the development doesn’t proceed, then obviously we have a significant problem,” Wilson said. “What we ought to consider is, what is the exit strategy if that situation occurs.”

Wilson said the city should add a clause into the contract with developers that would specify future proceedings in the case that development does stall. He suggested there could be a clause in the contract which would return the property to the city if development doesn’t proceed.

Wilson expressed concerns about moving forward with the contract if the city could potentially end up in a “limbo state.”

“I realize they have the best intentions, but I don’t want to put the community on the hook,” he said.

Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) made a motion to table the ordinance until the next regularly-scheduled Council meeting to give developers the opportunity to answer the city’s questions. Wilson expressed his disappointment with Fiske’s suggestion, saying he believed the Council could have discussed the development further.

Former 6th Ward alderman Mark Tendam spoke at Monday’s meeting in support of developing the property.

“I fought (for it) then and I still believe it’s a good idea to develop that property,” Tendam said. “But I don’t think the current proposal really honors the intention of the (request for proposal) that we wrote several years ago. … Not a lot of the questions that have been raised in this process have truly been answered.”

Tendam said there are still unanswered questions about how the developers will work with the city. He said he hopes aldermen can look at the narrative surrounding the development “for what it is.”

“It sounds nice, but it’s not all that complete,” he said.

Many community members encouraged aldermen to reject the proposal, on the basis of the tremendous impact the development would have on downtown Evanston.

Melanie Cody, the current president of The Woman’s Club of Evanston — a property located near the planned development — said the city should vote no on the current plan and instead take time to work on the right development for the “special location.”

Residents expressed concern about the change in zoning, safe access to other local community spaces and the number of accessible parking spots available with the new development.

Cody emphasized how the block that the property is located on “pulls its weight in the community” because she said it is near The Woman’s Club, the Evanston Public Library and the Frances Willard House, which make great contributions of volunteer service to the community. Additionally, she said the 54 properties located on the block contribute important tax revenue.

“Voting no respects the city’s zoning code and the professional judgments of the city’s staff and planning commission,” Cody said. “It’s simply the wrong building for the site, and the developer’s inadequate responses to city concerns and cavalier interactions with the property’s neighbors are very troubling.”

Other residents cited how the development would cause inconveniences to both young and old people, affecting their “daily lives.”

Evanston resident Sara Schastok called for the city to make a rational, well-thought-out decision that takes into consideration the interests of citizens.

“Let’s think about this site and the opportunity we have to do it right for Evanston,” Schastok said. “(Let’s) think about the next 100 years because a building really is a contract with the future. … This is the time to include the whole city in this process. The site doesn’t belong to any one ward. It is our place, our downtown.”

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