Plan Commission rejects Chicago Avenue downzoning

A Google Maps view down Chicago Avenue from Lee Street.

Members of Evanston's Plan Commission voted Wednesday evening to reject a proposal to downzone a section of Chicago Avenue.

The commissioners voted 5-1 to recommend no change in the existing C1a zoning for the commercial strip from just north of Lee Street south to Calvary Cemetery.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, whose 3rd Ward includes the area, had requested changes in the zoning several months ago, but commission members complained Wednesday that she hadn't followed up with them to explain what problem she was seeking to solve by seeking the downzoning.

Commissioner Jolene Saul said, "This is our third or fourth meeting on this, and we haven't seen anyone come out saying there's an issue."

The commission's Zoning Committee, working with city staff, had developed proposals to increase the minimum lot area required per dwelling unit in the zone from 350 to 400 square feet and to also impose a new rule that would require a minimum sidewalk width of 12 feet.

While several new developments in the area that went through the city's planned development process have sidewalks that wide, many older buildings in the area have sidewalks only about eight feet wide.

Commissioner Peter Isaac said he had doubts about the legality of the sidewalk rule -- saying it could be seen by the courts as an uncompensated taking of private property for public use.

Some commissioners said they believed it would be desirable to have wider sidewalks, but they disagreed about whether having a uniform width would yield the most attractive result.

Michael Low, co-owner of a building at 928 Chicago Ave., said the zoning change would limit his ability to redevelop his property.

"I don't think this would solve the density problem of Evanston," Low said. "We should look at the whole community, and not just penalize the last 12 small buildings in the area after the mega-developments have gone in."

Commissioners were told that Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, is hoping to have a portion of Howard Street rezoned to the C1a classification, and Matt Rodgers, former chair of the city's Zoning Board of Appeals, who lives near Howard Street, said any potential changes to the zoning classification should be looked at "in the greater citywide scheme, rather than just on Chicago Avenue."

Commissioner Saul said the proposed increase in minimum lot size per dwelling unit would have the effect of encouraging construction of more large, two- and three-bedroom units. "I don't see that as the city's role," Saul said.

"Household size is trending smaller," she added, and market demand should determine what size units are constructed.

It will be up to the City Council to decide whether to adopt any changes to the zoning.

Related stories

Plan board to act on Chicago Avenue downzoning (12/6/17)

Zoning unit weighs possible changed to C1a (10/12/17)

Downzoning eyed for Chicago Avenue (8/30/17)

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Comments

Sidewalk size

If the zoning commission feels there are no issues, simply look at "The Main". So many variances were issued that Chicago Ave. East Side South of Main isn't wide enough for a wheelchair in one direction and a pedestrian coming the other way. The pedestrian inevitably must step aside to provide access. The same situation exists if one has a grocery cart (though this is not an ADA category). Ironic given the interest in having a "commuter" city to have difficult or impassable sidewalks. Evanston insists on planting trees on the west side of Chicago Ave. between the Jewel and Main. At those "choke" points the sidewalk is barely 4 feet wide. And yet walking to the Jewel and Trader Joe's is encouraged. Perhaps the commission and EVERY member of the city council (and Mayor) and about half a dozen wheelchairs should traverse the area...the able bodied dragging filled, heavy carts....and see if in passing each other problems are noticed. Maybe 45 minutes. What they could learn!

Sidewalk Planters

Important to point out that the setback on the Chicago Avenue side of The Main is much wider than the older row of buildings directly to the south. Perceived issues with the width of this portion of the sidewalk can be attributed to the large concrete planter boxes that line this part of the sidewalk. Assume this was a city-requested/city-designed feature, and assigning blame to the building itself misses the broader picture. Take a look at the setback of The Main and compare to the State Farm office etc. further south. Take up accessibility issues with the city, since they are responsible for how these wider sidewalks are configured.


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