Evanston aldermen voted 6-2 this evening to approve a developer’s proposal for a four-story mixed-use building to replace the Evanston Theater complex in the 1700 block of Central Street.

The vote came despite intense opposition from a group of neighors organized as the Friends of Central Street who said the planned building is too tall, doesn’t include enough retail space, and should have underground parking.

A last-minute report prepared by a city consultant and presented at the meeting said that adding underground parking would reduce the projected profit margin on the project to about 7 percent — a level that the consultant said would make it very unlikely the project could be financed.

The development as approved will have up to 51 dwelling units, over 11,000 square feet of retail space and 100 off-street parking spaces.

Although only opponents of the project turned out for the meeting, Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, in whose 7th Ward the project is located, said she’d spoken with many who favor the development.

“There are people on both sides of this issue — plenty of them, because it is a hot issue,” Ald. Tisdahl said.

She noted that residents in Central Street visioning meetings held earlier this month had called for a three-story height limit for buildings on the street. “But this development has to be considered under the current zoning rules,” she said, “and under those rules four stories is allowed.”

Alderman Edmund Moran, whose 6th Ward covers the western portion of Central Street, voted against the plan.

Ald. Moran, who participated in the meeting by telephone from Naples, Fla., where he was on business, said the developer of this project has obtained control over several other properties nearby and voiced fears that such control could be used to “trump” the visioning process.

But Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, and Alderman Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward, said they failed to see the relevance of that argument — given that there’s now a moratorium on further development projects on Central Street to give time for rezoning expected to be developed from the visioning process to be adopted.

The aldermen also voted to approve tearing down the landmark cottage on the site west of the theater building.

The developer had initially proposed building a five story development and saving the cottage, but dropped that plan after neighbors indicated less height was more important to them than saving the old house.

Related story

Aldermen advance theater condo plan – Jan. 28, 2007

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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