Land Use Commission unanimously supports Masonic Temple apartments project


Daily file illustration by Shveta Shah

Developers want to turn Masonic Temple into a 30 unit apartment building.

Ella Jeffries, Copy editor

The Evanston Land Use Commission unanimously voted to create 30 rental housing units as part of the interior renovation of the Masonic Temple at its Nov. 9 meeting  

Located at 1453 Maple Ave., the building has stood vacant for more than half a decade. Developers want to turn the local landmark into multi-family, loft-style or two-story apartments. 

Evanston resident Jennifer Grandy, who lives three doors down from the Temple, implored the board to allow the project to move forward. 

“I’d like to express how demoralizing it’s been to live on a block that’s been bookended by mostly vacant, derelict buildings,” Grandy said. “Masonic Temple has been a dumping ground for shopping carts and garbage … (but) what’s even more demoralizing is the potential of maintaining the status quo.”

Although the proposed adaptive-reuse project satisfies its area zoning laws, the developers made major zoning variation requests to allow for necessary accommodations.

Developers want to provide 10 more apartments than the current limit of 14 that the R6 zone and lot size permits. Under the city’s inclusionary housing ordinance, three of the 24 proposed apartments must be considered affordable. The ordinance also allows for two additional units for one affordable unit, bringing the total number of apartments up to 30. 

In accordance with parking guidelines, the location also needs 0.55 spaces per bed. Developer Gary Stoltz said while providing parking in the basement of the Masonic Temple isn’t an option, the developers have included a call for 10 spaces to be leased at the Holiday Inn parking garage. He also asked to reduce parking to 0.275 per bed as part of the proposal.

The developers’ main argument for this proposal is that Temple’s location is a five to 10 minute walk to the CTA Purple Line and Metra stations and within walking distance of multiple bus stops, a Divvy bike station and several grocery stores. 

The building will also add a new rear trash enclosure and wheelchair lift at the primary entrance, and replace the existing historic windows with wood windows. 

The proposal first went through the Evanston Preservation Commission in October, where it was also unanimously voted for approval, with a special staff report issued to recommend granting the three major zoning variation requests. 

Still, not all Evanston residents want to see the proposal approved.

At an Oct. 11 EPC meeting, Evanston resident Len Koroski said the committee should take into consideration a lower unit density than proposed. He said he wants the original structure of the building to remain as intact as possible.

“There might be something done internally to have greater sympathy to show a public benefit of retaining what is a great history of Evanston,” Koroski said. “The Masonic Temple is one of Evanston’s most intact and significant institutional resources and is important … for its link to the cultural past.” 

City planner Cade Sterling said while these concerns are legitimate, changing the number of units wouldn’t necessarily result in a change in plans for the building’s structure. 

Sterling said the EPC did have reservations about some of the proposed changes, but after extensive discussions in the meeting, members felt this was the best step forward. 

“A way to really preserve buildings is to invest in them significantly and appropriately and give them new life for the future,” Sterling said. “And I think that’s ultimately what (the commission) saw this proposal accomplishing.” 

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