Tower developers shrink planned height

The developers of the proposed Fountain Square tower trimmed the building's height in a new proposal for the project presented to the Evanston Planning and Development Committee this evening.

The new, shorter tower plan, looking south from Church Street.

The new design calls for a 38-story building instead of the original 49-story proposal.

It would be 421 feet tall instead of the 523-foot-tall original proposal.

The new design has a smaller setback at the fourth-floor level than the original design and still has the 218 condo units proposed in the original.

The aldermen took no action on the revised plan this evening but scheduled two follow-up meetings.

The first, at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 30, is a session of the city's Economic Development Committee at which city consultants are scheduled to report on an analysis of the financial aspects of the project.

The second, at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 7, is a special meeting of the Planning and Development Committee.

At that session the aldermen plan to hear 90 minutes of public comment on the tower plan and then present their own comments on it.

Despite the loss of height in the new design, the building, if approved, would still become the tallest in the metro area outside Chicago itself -- it would top the existing record-holder, the Oakbrook Terrace Tower, by three feet.

Comments

Not as elegant

I agree. While I am still in favor of it just as a matter of principle (development is good, faux 'charm and uniqueness' is bad) , I am afraid that we will have a repeat of Optima Horizons, where a tall graceful building was rejected so a shorter, clunky building was put up.
Well, if this doesn't go through, I hope that the owners just knock down the current 708 Church building and put up a new, 4-story Class A , not Class B, office building and find some national chains to occupy the ground floor.

Nothing is New (except height)

There is much more to this story. The developers, knowing that they did not have enough votes to get their project approved, asked for two weeks to make changes to the skyscraper. The aldermen generously allowed for a continuance and gave the developers time to re-group. Several aldermen warned them that they could not come back with just a less-tall building. But, last night the developers did just that -- they came back with a 38 story skyscraper (plus 2 stories of additional height) and with almost nothing else changed. The fact is that, while the building is less tall (by 22%), the skyscraper is now wider toward the bottom, meaning that in terms of volume (units), we have the same building, just wider and less tall. This means that concerns about traffic, parking, pollution, demands on city services, etc., were completely ignored by the developers. Even more important, the developers also completely ignored the concerns of several aldermen who said that they had to come back with more public benefits and with a building that would serve as an economic engine. Well, incredibly enough, the developers came back with a new skyscraper that added no more public benefits and with almost the same retail space. They were given the luxury of a continuance, a burden to the residents and the city, and they came back with practically the same thing. Perhaps what confuses me the most is why the alderman didn't simply vote on Son-of-Skyscraper last night since the project was virtually the same. So, now we have to spend more nights making the same arguments, wasting our time, wasting the city's resources. Who will pay for this?

Make it taller, please

Peter Sanchez:
You are complaining that there is 'nothing new', just a shorter building, and none of the other issues are adressed.
I don't think that there is anything that these developers can do to satsisfy the hardcore anti-development people like you and the ECRD crowd. No matter what they do, you will oppose it. Why don't you guys come up with realistic solutions? ( 'Don't build anything' is not a realistic solution) . What would you consider to be adequate public benefits? How would you solve the alleged 'congestion problem'.

What would be an acceptable development on this site? If you are in favor of keeping the so-called historic and charming 708 building, come out and say so. Your group supposedly favors 'responsible development' ...what is that? No development?
If you are and the other ECRD members can't do this, then the developers are right to just ignore you.
They have come back with a shorter tower. You are still not satisfied. So what? Their goal is not to satisfy you, because nothing will satisfy you. Their goal is to satisfy the "swing voters", who want development but just think 49 stories is too much.
This is how politics works, professor. People make compromises and tradeoffs to put together winning coalitions , but some people just can't be won over. Senator Obama knows that he will not carry Idaho in November, so he will devote his attention to winning Minnesota and Ohio instead of campaigning in Boise. The developers know that they cannot win you over, so they are trying with the more moderate people. Shortening the tower a little bit might work.

I like your closing:
" So, now we have to spend more nights making the same arguments, wasting our time, wasting the city's resources. Who will pay for this?"

Well...you don't have to. You can stay home. We won't miss you. And really, many of the ECRD members appear to have nothing better to do, and I think that the enjoy participating in this kind of stuff.

Who will pay for this? , you ask. The developers will pay plenty of city fees and taxes, and have paid many already. The time of the ECRD people is worth nothing. A better question is , "Who will pay for the damage caused by selfish NIMBY's"? If you want to preserve the charming, non-existant Evanston of old, if you want this place to be 'more like Glencoe', you should pay for it if you won't allow development.

Why don't you and the other anti-tower people just buy that plot of land, and not develop it? If you are as numerous as you claim to be , this would be a small investment. You could collect rent from Williams Shoes and the many offices upstairs, pay the property tax, and keep the building in its charming and historic state.

Its about far more than height

Mr. Evans,
You write:
"If you are and the other ECRD members can't do this, then the developers are right to just ignore you.They have come back with a shorter tower. You are still not satisfied. So what? Their goal is not to satisfy you, because nothing will satisfy you. Their goal is to satisfy the "swing voters", who want development but just think 49 stories is too much."

You've got your facts wrong. I was present at the meeting in which the aldermen conveyed to the developers their concerns. One of the key things emphasized was that they were NOT to simply come back with a shorter design--that there had to be real, tangible public benefits. Instead, the developers ignored the ALDERMEN.

You harp on height as the issue that has ECRD and other Evanstonians upset, but the issues are much more extensive than simply height. Most residents in Evanston does NOT want more residential density downtown. We are already frustrated with the traffic and parking problems during key times. Many of us are now spending our money at the Old Orchard Mall, in preference to having to hunt and pay for parking downtown. We only go downtown now for the unique stores and restaurants--if we want chain stores, then Skokie gets our $.

If the tower developers hope to gain the favor of Evanstonians, they will have to stop asking the city to subsidize them with millions of our tax dollars, they will have to give some concrete public benefits (green space, etc), they will have to upgrade their commitment to a green building (it is common knowledge that silver LEED status is the lowest possible, and these days does not count for anything), they will have to stop asking for parking and other variances (they currently have far fewer parking spots than required for a building of this size with this kind of residential density--put in that underground garage, for Pete's sake!)...this is a concrete list of things that I believe would make Evanstonians happier with the building.

Personally, I'd be fine with a 28 or 30 story building on that site...presuming that developers did not ask for city handouts to develop their building and that adequate parking and public benefits were included in the deal. I think there are many others who feel as I do. We are sick and tired of giving away the candy store to out of town developers who will not be stuck with the tax bills that will haunt us for years to come.

Parking isn't a problem downtown...if you live here

Dear Mr. or Ms. "pro intelligent development":

You wrote:

"Most residents in Evanston does NOT want more residential density downtown. We are already frustrated with the traffic and parking problems during key times. Many of us are now spending our money at the Old Orchard Mall, in preference to having to hunt and pay for parking downtown."

I'm not sure about this. Maybe you are just talking to your friends in the big houses up north. I live downtown, this tower will be in my neighborhood, probably depress the value of my condo, and I think it is a great idea.

I don't have a 'parking problem'...I walk downtown, as do most people I know. I would welcome more neighbors into this area, especially if they are wealthy old people who will pay taxes but not have kids in school or cause trouble.

By 'key times' do you mean after a movie?? I never had a problem with the Maple or new Sherman garages though...anyway, if we believe the ECRD and their alderman, once this tower is built there will be more parking spaces available, because fewer people will be coming to see their therapists and chiropractors in the 708 building.

I think that most of us who live downtown would welcome MORE development here...more residents, more stores. This is our neighborhood, we live here, we don't want to return to the dead downtown of yesteryear just so people who live in big houses in Wards 6 and 7 can easily find parking on the empty streets.

Downtown condo-dwelling resident of ward 1

This place needs a few lessons on LEED

There are four levels of LEED certification: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum.
As of 2006, there were only 13 LEED certified buildings in the Chicago area at all. 2 Platinum, 3 Gold, 4 Silver and 4 Certified.
There are no new-construction residential condo buildings that I'm aware of in the Chicago area that have been awarded anything higher than Silver.

Higher residential density and keeping parking to a minimum are two areas that LEED encourages. The higher the residential density, the more points LEED can award. LEED also has limits on how much of the floor area can be parking.

The US Green Building Council would prefer that the developer build no parking at all so that residents are encouraged to walk or use public transportation. In an urban environment close to public transportation, this is both reasonable and marketable.

Visit www.usgbc.org for more info on LEED. I'd suggest you do so before continuing to make statements and assumptions about the LEED process that are incorrect and misleading.

I agree

I agree John. The height doesn't bother me and I prefer a taller/slimmer building rather than a shorter/thicker building. Optima Horizons is one example, but so are the townhomes at the corner of Chicago/South. Those things are an ugly mess and that site would've been much more open and pleasing as originally proposed. If something like this is ever to be built in Evanston, this is the place to do it.

The alleged traffic and parking issue is an easy crutch that any anti-development group leans on. I think the traffic downtown is fine and will continue to be so with this project. I haven't seen any technical backup to the claims of congestion. I'd be in favor of placing a maximum on how many parking spaces they can provide, rather than a minimum. That will encourage the owners to walk more often and utilize public transportation. On a side note, I wish the City would've just increased the meter price to $1 rather than $0.75 per hour to make the on-street more equitable to parking in the garages... and convert these old fashioned meters to some modern pay-and-display technology that accepts coins, dollar bills, and credit cards.

I think most tower opponents don't want to compromise and won't be appeased by anything. At some point in this process (not just this project, but opposition to most any project in most any community), it starts to get personal and the issues don't even matter as much anymore.

I'm not out there demanding this project move forward, but I'm not opposed to it either. If it does move forward, my three main requests are:
1. Soften the transition between the lower 4 floors and the tower component in a better way so that it doesn't look so much like a podium. Too many of the high-rises in River North look like that.

2. Pay for a revamped Fountain Square

3. Add an office component... my understanding is that office demand in downtown is high. Maybe Evanston can pursue Rand McNally's HQ, which is selling its Skokie site, but wants to stay in the area?

Yes, please make it taller, Please!!

John Evans
John, great response to Peter Sanchez. You articulated the NIMBY no solution other than do nothing mindset perfectly. The bottom line is that development of that block is coming whether they like it or not. If this developer closed up shop, another will come along. Oh and by the way all you class b office people that just can't seem to find an alternative to 708 rates, how about having the existing landlord raise everyones rates to class A since you all have testified that you are enjoying class B rents in a class A city block. Guess what folks, your rents are going up whether this project is dropped or not.
John I think your suggestion that the NIMBY's all get together and buy that building so they can then submit for a planned development is a great idea. Oh I forgot, they don't acually want to stick their financial neck's out. unlike the developer who I would guess has 200K or more into this deal already. They would rather spend all there money visiting the class B phyco analyists to treat their fits of depression over that lost downtown charm of the 70's with vacant lots and rundown drug stores.
Peter, how about some ideas for that block (no leaving it as is is not an idea)? Let's have a debate on your solutions, and not just one stuck parked in abandoned car in the abandoned city garage now occupied by class A retail. All you NIMBY's offer is depression and stagnation.
Hey pro tower folks!! We need you to show up at the next meeting for the good of Evanston!!

Was height the issue, or not?

We've seen the results of this process before in Evanston. Take a look at Optima Horizons if you want an idea of what we will end up with when height is the main concern.
If enough people complain about the height of a proposed building, it will get shorter, but what does that accomplish?

I understand the point that the only thing the developer changed was the height of the building, yet the height seems to be the one central issue that everyone opposing this development is preoccupied with. Look at those yard signs for example. They show something that looks like an 80 story building and urge residents to "STOP THE TOWER". Nearly every anti-development comment shared uses phrases like "TOWER" and "SKYSCRAPER" and "MONSTER" and talks directly about the height of this propsal.

Some people have been screaming (literally) that they don't want something that tall, so it should be no surprise that the developer focused on reducing the height.

Are traffic, parking, pollution and demands on city services valid arguments? Perhaps they are, but if they were the main concern of opponents, then why did the majority of comments and discussion focus so much on the height, and not those other issues?

I contend that if the preoccupation with height hadn't come up so quickly and forcefully in this process, the end result would be far superior for everyone. An elegant 49 story iconic structure that address reasonable parking, traffic, fire and pollution concerns as well as providing a public benefit (such as paying to rebuild fountain square, or paying for other civic projects) would be a far better end result than a shorter design that provides little or none of these.

Height was one of many concerns (go to the meetings)

Height was one of many, many concerns about the skyscraper. Go to EvanstonCRD.org and you will see that height is but one of many concerns. Yes, we focused on the "tower" as a high-rise monster because there is just so much that you can put on a lawn sign. You say that we misrepresented the skyscraper, but you say nothing about the fact that the developers called it sleek, slim, etc. Well, it's relatively sleek and slim only if you look at the thing from the north or from the south. If you look at it from the east or west then it's basically a big, wide rectangle and far from thin.

If the developers jumped off a cliff, would you do it to?

"You say that we misrepresented the skyscraper, but you say nothing about the fact that the developers called it sleek, slim, etc. Well, it's relatively sleek and slim only if you look at the thing from the north or from the south. If you look at it from the east or west then it's basically a big, wide rectangle and far from thin."

So maybe they should put up something that is slim from all vantage points, like a telephone pole, right? What kind of building will be slim from every angle?

And that doesn't change the fact that your group's picture was deceptive. Just because the developers supposedly were also deceptive, doesn't make it OK.

Height was the biggest concern, others aren't as clear

The Evanston CRD group could've put any number of images on their lawn sign, but they chose an over-scaled elevation view of a blocky building with an under-scaled skyline around it. I've been at plenty of public meetings where developers have been accused of playing games with the scales of drawings (usually showing larger buildings at a smaller scale, and smaller buildings at a larger scale), but I've never seen an organized opposition group so blatantly misrepresent the scale of a building and it's surroundings before. Most people who see those signs and know nothing else of the project would assume something similar to the Sears Tower has been proposed in their back yard.

With these images planted in the lawns of several homes around Evanston (though oddly enough those residents living closest to this project don't have lawns), it's not surprising that the developer made revisions that focused on reducing the height, rather than focusing on revising other aspects of the design.

What other changes would you like to see to this proposal? The ECRD points to lots of issues, and people can decide for themselves if those other issues are valid or not, but their website doesn't offer any suggestions or solutions.

Old guard

I don't think that the ECRD members really have any alternative proposals. They often have contradictory arguments about why the tower is bad, and they seem to have many different opinions over what kind of development, if any, should be permitted on this site.

They all just seem to agree that the tower is bad.

Like others, I notice that many of these lawn signs are in front of big houses in the wealthier parts of the city, and most of the people protesting at the council meetings were white and over 60. I think that this is a battle between the old Evanston, those who were born here or moved here 20 or 30 years ago to get out of Chicago, and the newer residents who moved here because it is close to Chicago.

I believe that time, and economics, favor the newer residents. Eventually we will win out.

Solutions? You want solutions?

"What other changes would you like to see to this proposal? The ECRD points to lots of issues, and people can decide for themselves if those other issues are valid or not, but their website doesn't offer any suggestions or solutions."

Of course not..the goal is just to prevent development by using every possible irrelevant , false, or contradictory they can to defeat it. They never have constructive alternatives, never offer solutions.
Never "Here is how we can alleviate traffic problems"...no, just "This will cause traffic problems". Same with all the other real and phony issues they bring up.

I really do wonder who is funding this ECRD organization. Yes, they have the usual old people and NIMBY's who just come out against all development - but I wonder how much of their money is coming from certain special interests { current renters at 708 Church, rival developers or property owners, current condo owners who don't want competition on the market }

At least with the developers, their motives are up front. Yes, they want to build a condo and make money doing it. (oh no! greed!) .

ECRD distortions

I just took a look at the 'Myths and Realities' on the ECRD page. Several of the 'myths' look like straw man arguments, created by ECRD.

For example:

1. "Myth: The Plan Commission overwhelmingly approved the proposal".
Did anyone ever claim that they did? I don't think that even the developers are claiming this.

2. "Myth: Fire safety is not an issue with a 38-story skyscraper..."
Again, did anyone ever make that claim? Nobody is stupid enough to say that fire safety is not an issue, for any building. The real issue is, "Does the proposed building meet or exceed all safety requirements for high rises, will it have modern sprinkler systems and backups, and what do the fire department and fire inspectors think?" If ECRD doesn't think so, they should explain why, instead of setting up this fake 'myth' to demolish.

Can anyone help me with another 'myth' and 'reality'?

Myth : The building would not put undue burden on the existing public utilities?

Reality: In the August 2nd Staff Report on 708 Church, the Evanston Public Works Department repeatedly reported that the developer had given them insufficient information to make a statement.

Insufficient information to make a statement about what? What's the whole story here? I suspect that the EPWD just said that they needed more information, and then the ECRD people twisted that around to suggest that the building would 'put undue burden on existing public utilities'. Did the developers come back with the additional information? Is the original document from EPWD available?

I also note the word 'existing'. I assume that part of the development will include upgrading some public utilities ( electric, water) in the construction area, so this also appears to be misleading and dishonest.

Does anyone know the full story?

Reactionary residents

There is something seriously wrong with the reactionary Evanston residents so adamantly opposing this project. Maybe it's the old age and, or maybe it's the secret desire to live in Barrington instead of a diverse, urban suburb with land values begging for more height. They now managed to turn a lean and tall architectural marvel into a slightly fatter, shorter tower with the same number of units. One wonders what "improvements' the too-much-time-on-their-hands development micromanagers will think of next.

Depressing Residents

There is something seriously depressing about these reactionary Evanston residents.
We need that tower, if for no other reason, to bring some more happy forward-looking people to Evanston that enjoy a vital downtown and actually like to spend time walking the streets and shopping, eating at restaraunts.
I wonder if any of them recall what they managed to do to the block that the Optima 16 story block long monolith is built on? They ranted and raved over a taller sleak tower until Otpima said screw it and just built the biggest monolith they could legally get on the block under existing zoning at the time. So, I hope they all enjoyed that outcome. They just don't get it. If a shorter building is forced on the developer, it must get fatter to stay economically feasible.

Let's focus on TIF dollars

I am an Evanston resident. I don't have a problem with more condos as long as they can be built without any public dollars. I also prefer the previous design. The focus on height is a mistake. If people are worried about a 'strain" on services, a shorter building with the same number of units has the same impact as a taller one. The condo construction downtown has been a net gain for Evanston. 20 years ago nobody had any reason to go there. Now we have two beautiful new book stores, a new health club, theaters, restaurants. Evanston may not be a 24 hour town, but at least you don't have to leave to have a good meal or see a movie.

However, Evanston doesn't really have a need for more condos and given the sharp decline in the overall housing market, it makes ZERO sense for the city to commit scarce tax dollars to a project that has a good chance of not being particularly successful.

If Focus wants to build the building, I say let them, with the original design, but not with my tax dollars.

Evanston's Spire, not quite

Chicago is getting the Spire, the X's and O's highrise and the Trump towers - architectural marvels compared to what we might get now - a stumpy, squat and subdued highrise. The first plan was better. At least make it interesting and unique-something that stands out on its own, something that no one else has but wished they did. A symbol of power and prestige. A towering sanctuary rising in the midst of a proud Evanston. Well, on second thought ...
Anonymous Al

Tower + Civic Center?

How about incorporating a new City Hall within this building. Couldn't be more of a public benefit than that? Now that would be a true pubilc/private partnership.

Evanston tower

I've lived here for two years now, and am a lifelong Illinoisan. Evanston is an urban center in its own right, and deserves a tower better than Oak Brook. Those who say this will degrade Evanston are not walking the streets of our town. We are a special community, better than Oak Brook, who deserve a focal point on our skyline.

None of the proposed plans inspire me, these developers have not tried to inspire the community, that's why there's resistance to the plan. I, for one, would be proud to see an edifice from my back yard. One suggestion, however, there should be an observation deck, this will make it unique, and provide something that the entire community will enjoy.

A Modest Proposal (ignore the anonymouses)!

To all of us who are openly expressing our opinions and arguments for or against the tower, I propose that we not engage the anonymouse (not a typo), non-verified posters for two reasons. First, we have no way of knowing who these people are and whether or not its just one person with lots of idle time. Second, when people need not identify themselves, they are much more likely to be rude and thoughtless (as many of these posts are). Let them/him/her write all they want, but I suggest that we keep the discussion going between those of us with the courage to openly present facts, opinions and ideas. Let's not give the anonymouses the luxury of a non-deserved response. So, before responding, check to see whether the comment is anonymous and whether the name is verified.

I will test my ability to comply with my modest proposal by forcing myself to ignore the anonymouse and unverified comments that will come my way ...

Who's afraid of a little anonymouse?

"we have no way of knowing who these people are and whether or not its just one person with lots of idle time"

Why do you need to know who we are? I am not a 'person with lots of idle time' - unlike the retirees and academics at ECRD - I have a day job.

Peter thinks that anonymous posting is bad. As usual, he is incorrect. Consider the benefits of anonymous posting:

1. People can say what they really believe, without fear of retaliation.

Maybe I work with a NIMBY, or my boss is a NIMBY, or I am a student at Loyola, or I work at the shoe store. Peter's strategy is eerily similar to that of the Alabama attorney general in NAACP v. Alabama, who demanded that the NAACP provide a list of its members. This was mainly an attempt to intimidate.
( See http://www.oyez.org/cases/1950-1959/1957/1957_91/ )

Interestingly, he seems to think that I should shut up if we don't want to reveal our names - yet he favors a referendum to decide this issue. What is more anonymous than that? Apparently it is OK for anonymous people who take no responsibility for their actions to manage the city, but posting on a website should require a background check.

2. Arguments should be judged by their merits, not by who makes them.

Again, rather than answering the many questions people have posed about the ECRD ( the distorted tower poster, who is funding it, what development if any do they consider acceptable).. it seems that he prefers to know the identity of the anonymous freedom fighters in the battle against NIMBY intolerance. I think that MORE anonymous posters should join the board. I admit, when I see certain names , I immediately make up my mind that I will disagree with most of the garbage that follows. With anonymous posters, we can read the postings with an open mind and listen to the arguments, not focus on personalities.

3. Rude posts are often good and constructive.

Some opinions are downright stupid, and deserve to be ridiculed mercilessly.
{ My favorite: the tower will cause traffic by bringing more people into Evanston, but we will lose parking revenue because fewer people will be coming into Evanston}

Unfortunately, society often requires that we be nice to bigoted and intolerant people, because I may see some of these people in everyday situations. With this glorious anonymity , we are free to point out that the emperor (or professor) has no clothes.

For the ECRD people who don't like anonymity, please tell us: who is funding your organization, who designed and who approved that out of proportion "tower on Central St." poster?

Most importantly, please tell us what you consider to be acceptable , "responsible" development? Several posts have asked this question, and we have not gotten a response.

Sincerely,

the anonymouse formerly known as Mr. Who Knows