by Bob Seidenberg
Evanston City Council members closed the books Monday on developers bid to build a 12-story, 267-unit apartment building at 831 Emerson St., largely marketed toward students, with some saying the project wasn’t right for the area.
In a rare spurning of a major development proposal, aldermen voted down introduction of an ordinance for the planned development. Northfield-based Focus Development, which has developed other well-received projects in the area, including Sherman Plaza, had teamed up with Chicago’s CA Ventures on the project.
CA Ventures had developed a number of buildings in college towns aimed at attracting student renters.
The developers had sought extensive variations from zoning code in building height, number of housing units and parking. The developers projected the high rise would generate more than a $1 million in tax revenue than what is now generated at the site, where Lake City Cleaners and a and convenience store are located.
The project had received the backing of staff as well as the Plan Commission, but had continued to draw criticism from area residents, particularly at Sherman Garden Apartments, a seven-store cooperative building at 1862 Sherman Ave., located across the street.
Residents at Sherman Garden, some longtime members of the community, were opposed to the “type of development” developers were proposing, said Regina Henry, speaking during citizen comment at the council’s Planning and Development Committee meeting.
“We don’t feel this is needed, we don’t think this is appropriate for the area,” she said. “One of the reasons is you’re bringing 440 students into the neighborhood. You’re inviting additional traffic by pedestrians, just all sorts of things.”
Also during citizen comment, Gail Schechter, speaking in behalf of Open Communities, suggested that the project may have fair housing issues. She raised concern that the project’s proposed “micro-units,” gave no indication that families with children would be welcome.
In council discussion, Ald. Ann Rainey, 8th, rejected that opinion. “This is student housing. It’s just like at a senior citizen home, they don’t have little children.”
Ald. Judy Fiske, in whose ward the site is located, said her problem with the building is that “it’s just the wrong building for this site.”
“It’s not a building that’s covered under our zoning ordinance â€” it’s not a building desired in the neighborhood â€” it’s not a building that the city has either asked for or needs,” she said. “Northwestern University is doing a fabulous job of building student housing on campus.”
Ald. Brian Miller, 9th, said the project also reiterated the need of a plan for the area.
“For a long time Emerson has been a border of downtown and we haven’t really determined what we want to do north of Evanston,” he said.