Evanston City Council moves forward with modified Church Street housing project, church rebuild

Evanston City Council voted to move forward with a proposed affordable housing complex and rebuild of Mt. Pisgah Ministry in the 1800 block of Church Street despite objections from council members and 5th Ward residents. Both items will be up for action at the March 27 City Council meeting.

The project would see Mt. Pisgah move to the corner of Church and Darrow, an empty lot owned by the city that was the site of a former gas station, with Housing Opportunity Development Corporation taking over the church’s site for a four-story affordable housing complex.

Original plans for the complex included a five-story building, but in order to better fit the area zoning requirements, the project was lowered by 10 feet to be closer in height to the church. That reduction to a four-story building will result in 11 fewer units than originally planned. Retail space is still in the plans for the first floor and one, two and three-bedroom residential units for the upper three floors.

Councilmember Bobby Burns proposed the height change during the Planning and Development Committee meeting held before the City Council meeting on March 13. The committee then voted 5-1 for approval with the amendments with Councilmember Clare Kelly voting no. At a previous meeting of the Land Use Commission, that body voted narrowly in favor of the housing project but not the church rebuild.

Kelly objected to voting on a measure without having detailed plans and said she is concerned about how construction would impact the residential building at 1817 Church Street, which is designated as a city landmark. She hoped to hold the motion to allow the city’s Preservation Commission a chance to weigh in on the project, but was not supported.

“People are very concerned about the amount of affordable housing that we have in this part of town. I feel like I really need to see how scattered our affordable housing is,” she said. “I hear this loud and clear and I understand this concern and we should all be concerned about this. We all want affordable housing but sometimes maybe it’s about doing fewer affordable units in another part of town rather than doing a lot because the land is cheaper.”

City Corporation Counsel Nicholas E. Cummings said that the city’s Preservation Commission has had ample time and notice to comment on the project if they believed it would negatively impact 1817 Church Street. Interim Community Development Director Sarah Flax also said updated designs could be brought before the board before any final action is taken in two weeks.

Kelly and Councilmember Peter Suffredin voted against both projects when brought before City Council.

5th Ward residents openly spoke against the project at the meeting as they had done at previous meetings. Residents expressed concerns about increased traffic, difficulty parking and the large number of affordable housing units in the 5th Ward, saying that their ward has far more units than all others in the city.

“It just amazes me about the total insensitivity that people who do not want public housing or affordable housing in their ward can dictate to people whose property will be adversely effected,” resident Carlis Sutton said. “This is redlining 2023. Court says you can’t redline.”

Residents are also concerned about the potential contamination left behind by the gas station on the corner lot. Developers with Suzuki+Kidd Architects, who developed the Mt. Pisgah design, said contaminated soil will be removed, replaced and contained appropriately before construction takes place as is required. Flax also said the cleanup for the site was completed through the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency when it was acquired by the city.

“We’re in a city where we want housing and affordable housing but we don’t want it. Or we don’t want it here,” Councilmember Krissie Harris said during the City Council meeting. “I do look forward to when we get to a place where we change all of our zoning, where we can adequately put housing in every single ward. There’s nine of us here that should be having housing in our communities.”