Evanston aldermen Monday voted to establish a 385-foot maximum height limit for the Fountain Square block downtown.

The 6-2 vote at a special Planning and Development Committee meeting came as aldermen worked their way through height limits for all of the downtown area, leaving most of them at the level proposed by the Plan Commission.

The 385-foot limit would permit a building roughly 35 stories tall, based on calculations by city consultants that high-rise buildings average 11 feet per floor.

Office buildings tend to have greater floor height than residential buildings, making direct comparisons across building types difficult.

The aldermen also set a base height limit, without bonuses, on the block of 275 feet, or 25 stories.

The tallest existing building in town, the 1603 Orrington Ave. tower is 277 feet tall. The recently completed Sherman Plaza development is one foot shorter than that.

The Plan Commission had deadlocked on how to handle the Fountain Square block, which is bounded by Church Street, Orrington Avenue, Davis Street and Sherman Avenue.

Some plan commissioners favoring a recommendation from the planning consultants of a 42-story, or 462-foot maximum height limit. Others favored much lower limits, with one even suggesting the block be designated as open space.

The map as adopted by the Plan Commission. The Fountain Square block is labeled with two asterisks.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, initially proposed that the aldermen adopt the 42-foot height limit proposed by the city consultants, but amended that proposal to what was finally adopted based on a suggestion from Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward.

Rainey said the Fountain Square block “is a very developable area.”

“Given what we’re going through now” with the economy and city budget, Rainey said, “I think the last thing we want to do is make development impossible in Evanston.”

Aldermen Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, and Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward, voted against the increase. Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, was absent from the meeting.

Chicago and Davis

The aldermen voted unanimously to add the property at the southeast corner of Chicago Avenue and Davis Street into the East Edge district (“E” on the map above) that adjoins it to the north and south.

The Plan Commission had been unable to reach agreement on that site, with some members arguing that it should be part of the South Traditional district (“K” on the map) that adjoins it on the west.

The property currently has two-story commercial buildings and had been part of the site proposed for a 16-story mixed-use development a few years ago that the aldermen ultimately rejected.

In the East Edge district the maximum height is 110 feet, compared to 60 feet in the South Traditional district.

West Davis

In response to complaints from several business owners in the 1000 block of Davis Street, the aldermen voted 7-1 to raise the height limit for the West Traditional district (“J” on the map) to 88 feet or 8 stories. The Plan Commission had recommended a 60-foot limit there.

Alderman Bernstein, whose ward includes the area, was the only vote against that solution. He faovred including the area in the “G” or West Core district, which would have permitted a 198-foot maximum height.

Other zones

The aldermen approved maximum height limits as proposed by the Plan Commission for all the other zones:

  • A – North Edge – 165 feet.
  • B – Northwest Edge – 110 feet.
  • C – West Link – 88 feet.
  • D – South Edge – 88 feet.
  • E – East Edge – 110 feet.
  • F – University Link – 88 feet.
  • G – West Core – 198 feet.
  • H – East Core – 198 feet.
  • I – Core – 275 feet.
  • K – South Traditional – 60 feet.
  • L – North Traditional – 60 feet.

The aldermen plan to continue their review of the downtown plan at the next Planning and Development Committee meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 26.

All the decisions made in committee are potentially subject to revision when the downtown plan moves to the full City Council for final adoption.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Where was Alderman Tisdahl?
    Just wondering where Alderman Tisdahl was during this landmark vote?

    1. Re: Where was Alderman Tisdahl?
      While I do not know were Alderperson Tisdahl was – lets talk about Evanston politics.

      One any council can request the others hold an item for their vote- if this issue was important enough to her she could have held it over to the next meeting for a vote,

      Also a classic approach I have seen by council members on zoning – is all other eight alderperson will vote in favor of a zoning item and the ward Alderperson will vote against it – so the residents who are upset will not be angry at them.

      Given they may have already talked this over – in private prior to the meeting which we will never know, ( too many executive sessions and they all can now talk over the internet )they all most likely knew the vote prior to it being voted on.

      And final it is an election year – what better way than to have no opinion or to able to create your opinion to different groups of voters, classic politics.

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