Luxury high rise developments spark controversy among Evanston residents and business owners


Daily file photo by Evan Robinson-Johnson

Developers continue building new luxury high rises in downtown Evanston. But some residents and business owners worry that the developments are exacerbating Evanston’s affordable housing problem.

William Clark, Assistant Audio Editor

Since 2006, developers have built 10 buildings with nine or more stories in Evanston.

High rise apartment complexes continue spreading through downtown Evanston and developers continue proposing new projects to the city’s Planning and Development Committee.

 Recently, some residents and business owners are growing concerned about the effect developments are having on the city’s affordable housing market and small businesses.

In 2020, these concerns came to a head amid multiple months of public hearings surrounding a proposal for a 17-story luxury building on Chicago Avenue. Many residents expressed strong opposition to the project on the grounds that it would disrupt the neighborhood’s character and exacerbate Evanston’s affordable housing problems. Following the hearings, the high rise development proposal was unanimously rejected by the Planning and Development Committee.

Rachel Angulo, the owner of La Cocinita, submitted a public comment arguing that by displacing small businesses, the development would harm local business owners. If built, the proposed high rise would have been constructed on top of La Cocinita’s current location. 

“We are so saddened by the possibility of having to start from scratch at a new location, and sincerely hope that this does not go through,” Angulo said at a May City Council meeting. “Our family’s livelihood — and that of so many others from our team and those in our neighboring buildings — depends on it.” 

Resident Claudia Perry said the city needs to prioritize supporting small businesses moving forward, rather than building high rises on top of existing stores — especially given how much they’ve suffered during the pandemic. 

Protecting small businesses is beneficial for Evanston’s pocketbook, Perry said, but it also preserves the character and history of the area. 

“I really think it would be a big mistake for Evanston to rip the heart out (of the downtown) by taking these big developers and having them steamroller existing businesses,” she said.

Danny Michael, the founder of Horizon Realty Group, leads the organization that submitted the rejected 2020 high rise proposal. Michael said the project would have brought “overwhelming” financial benefits to the community through tax and revenues.

But some residents worry that more luxury high rise development will price middle- and lower-income residents out of Evanston.

Lily Ng (Weinberg ‘24), who grew up in Evanston, said she doesn’t have strong opinions about the aesthetic effects of high rises. Rather, she’s concerned about expensive housing being built when many Evanston residents already struggle to find affordable housing units. 

“Nobody’s making affordable housing within those high rises,” Ng said. “That’s my biggest gripe about them, I’d say, is it’s definitely very much like … they don’t want (lower socioeconomic status people to be) a part of that exclusive echelon that they’re trying to create.”

Affordable housing is classified as housing that costs less than 30% of residents’ income. But in Evanston, 40% of residents are living in housing that doesn’t meet those standards.

In 2019, City Council implemented an Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, which requires residential developments to include a certain percentage of dwelling units that are priced affordably for “low- and moderate-income households,” or to contribute to the city’s Affordable Housing Fund. 

Chloe Chow (‘23), who also grew up in Evanston, said in her experience, affordable units in luxury high rises are often too small for families or multiple residents. 

“The rent for one unit is very expensive,” Chow said. “They have to legally do affordable housing… (But) then you’re getting a studio (and) it’s like 50 square feet.”

Perry said developers should prioritize designing buildings that include affordable housing options, aim to harmonize with existing streetscapes and are designed in ways that create a sense of community. 

She’s not sure that more high rises will do that.

“One of the things that you lose … in a high rise is that sense of community,” Perry said. “With a low rise building, you can have an opportunity within your building to know your neighbors or at least be able to say ‘Hi’ to them as you’re passing by, but if you’ve got a building that has a ton of units … you just lose a real sense of community.”

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Twitter: @willsclark01

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