City strikes down plan for downtown high-rise


Daily file photo by Noah Frick-Alofs

City residents objected to a 4.9% tax increase during a recession at Monday’s City Council meeting

Jason Beeferman, Reporter

The Planning & Development Committee unanimously rejected plans for a 17-story luxury building on Chicago Avenue on Monday.

The development proposal, submitted by Horizon Realty Group, was once again shot down by the city of Evanston. The group has submitted four proposals for the same downtown property, with the first proposal in 2017.

“I want to thank the community, because once again they’ve done their homework,” Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) said, citing community opposition to the high-rise development. “We’ve had three years of looking at the various iterations of this development, and there’s just nothing here that to my mind beats the standards in our zoning ordinance.”

The proposed 215-unit complex was to be built on the east side of Chicago Avenue, between Church and Davis Street. Danny Michael, founder of Horizon Realty Group, said the structure was aimed for “residents seeking a higher end living experience that is not offered right now in Evanston.”

The building faced strong opposition from Evanston residents, who saw the proposal as incompatible with the surrounding architecture.

Residents said there were limited changes from the last time council shut down the proposal, and the developers did not address the problems the council had previously brought up.

“The changes that followed the May 2018 proposal are insufficiently responsive to the site plan’s concerns and grossly insensitive and very aggressive in relation to the established planning and zoning framers of the site,” said Dennis Harder, who is president of the condominium association 522 Church St., which is less than a block away from the proposed development.

Harder also called the development’s proposed public benefits “insufficient.”

But Michael, Horizon’s founder, said the building would have had “overwhelming” financial benefits to the community. He estimated that the proposal would bring in $9 million to Evanston through future tax and revenues.

“The alternative to the proposed project is to attempt to lease the existing, outdated, highly unremarkable retail center to the next smoke shop, dry cleaners, cell company or nail salon that’s willing to take a chance on that location,” Michaels said.

Horizon Realty already owns The Merion, a senior living community located just north of the proposed development. The company planned to name the high-rise “The Merion Legacy,” which would also be a complex targeted toward senior residents.

Horizon Realty also committed $100,000 in cash to Evanston’s reparations fund as part of the proposal, which some residents raised concerns about. A direct commitment to the fund from a developer would have been a first, but residents questioned if the financial commitment functioned like a pay-to-play scheme.

“We all need to understand the optics of that look very bad,” Fiske said. “Outside of this development. I think anyone would welcome donations to the reparations committee. But paired with this development… it just looks bad.”

But Ald. Rainey (8th) and Ald. Rue Simmons (5th) pushed back, and said that any contribution to the reparations fund should be welcomed.

“I think the reparations committee was thrilled to hear that somebody wanted to make a financial commitment to the reparations project,” Rainey said. “We are way beyond being paid to play, and it really was quite insulting and I don’t believe, having known Jonathan Perman (the spokesman for Horizon) for way over 20 years, that he was bribing us in any way shape or form.”

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Twitter: @jasonbeeferman

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