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Evanston aldermen, during a planning and goal setting discussion Monday night, concluded their two top priorities are to plan for possible state-forced budget cuts and to figure out how best to spend the money in the city’s growing affordable housing fund.

The meeting, held in the aldermanic library and facilitated by California-based consultant Jean Bonander, was the first chance for members of the new City Council elected in April to map out their policy goals for the new council term.

Judy Fiske.

Early in the meeting several aldermen expressed an interest coming up with new versions of several city planning documents, including the 2006 Strategic Plan, the 2007 plans for Central Street and the WestEnd, the 2008 Lakefront Plan and the 2009 Downtown Plan.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, suggested the zoning changes included in the downtown plan should be codified.

Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, said it appears that many of the plans “get abandoned at some point.”

Robin Rue Simmons.

But Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said she believed the plans have been followed — expecially the ones for the lakefront and Central Street.

After City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said a new strategic plan could easily cost over $100,000 in fees to consultants, with other smaller-scale planning projects costing $50,000 to $75,000 — the ardor for a deep dive into developing new plans cooled and the aldermen said that at least for the next several months they’d just review the existing plans internally to get a better idea of what, if anything, might really need to be changed.

Wally Bobkiewicz.

Bobkiewicz said that with the ongoing lack of a state budget, the city could be faced with up to several million dollars in state funding cutbacks and needs to develop options for cutting its own spending in response.

He said the city also needs to fund the body camera program for the police department — which isn’t included in this year’s budget.

On top of that, he said, the city is starting to see some slowdown in local revenues it had been counting on — including delays in major building projects that were expected to yield large permit fees.

Steve Hagerty.

Mayor Steve Hagerty said the city needs to quickly determine what principles it’s going to follow in making budget reductions that could come with little warning from the state.

A mid-year budget update is scheduled for the City Council’s July 10 meeting.

And, depending on aldermanic vacation schedules, a special meeting to discuss developing a policy for spending the affordable housing money may be held on July 31.

For several years the city had little revenue coming into its affordable housing fund, but expansion of the scope of the program two years ago, it could soon have several million dollars to work with.

Several aldermen have expressed reservations about a decision in May to spend $579,000 to develop just two affordable housing units.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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9 Comments

  1. Illinois is in deep trouble

    Illinois currently has $130 billion in unfunded pension obligations and a backlog of unpaid bills worth $13 billion

    100 percent of the state’s monthly revenue will be eaten up by court-ordered payments and Gov. Rauner is calling a special session of the Democrat-led General Assembly in a bid to pass what he hopes will be the first full budget package in almost three years.

    As there’s talk of a state bankruptcy the Democrat supermajority in Springfield fails to balance a budget. The Republicans, a minority in the the state Congress, have a plan that incorporates reforms like property tax relief, term limits, and spending caps, which have caused an “ongoing confrontation.”

    Evanston, our school districts and Cook County are affected by the state’s financial crisis. 

  2. Rent buildings with major vacancies

    Put the council to work renting out the buildings we have with major vacancies.  Main/Chicago, Amli, E2.  Now we know that apartments located close to public transit don’t rent.  The council could also go to work on filling empty storefronts.  Those sites offer potential sources of tax money.

  3. Is property tax reduction considered affordable housing program?

    With property taxes skyrocketing in Evanston, more and more residents will have to determine whether Evanston is affordable for them.  Could the City use some of the affordable housing fund in ways that will help reduce property taxes for homeowners who are lower and middle income? 

    I agree that it would take creativity to make that happen but if we want to help existing residents, please be creative.

  4. Approve a new plan, the 2009 plan, or moratorium on development

    Significant resources and citizen and expert opinoin went into developing a 2009 Downtown Plan. Instead of codifying this plan, the city council instead has no downtown plan (although they say they are trying to follow the 2009 plan,) and thus, by the aldermen’s own admission, the coucil reacting to (and seemingly approving) plans from developers.

    So, instead of planning and getting what is best for our city, we are at the whims of the developer’s desires, who are dictating a transformation of our downtown and removing our renowned character. What we have now is a downtown the developers have decided our downtown should be block-long, high rises of micro luxury rental apartments that go for $1895-$2,500 for a 500+ sf, which actually could likely be raising price of rentals throughout the city. The space at the bottom of these buildings are only suitable for chain stores and go out of business and make storefronts unafforable for independent businesses that Evanstonians want to shop in. If we don’t have a plan, let’s codify the 2009 plan, which by the say wisely says that the block of Tommy Nevin’s is a “transitional block” and shall remain 3-5 stories. Instead of throwing away another block to an impersonal high rise dead zone and a shadowed, windy street — another dead zone–let’s reimagine it to go along with the cool new Fountain Square area.– a human scale, 3-5 story vibrant, sunny outdoor cafe, “let’s do downtown on this beautiful day” stretch. 

    Also, the development deals appear to be done by the alderman and developers in closed room deals. There is no transparency and the “citizen’s input” meetings are a ruse. In every case, the residents turn out in droves against the development or with MAJOR issues about the plans, are reassured that “this is a starting point and the developers are listening.” What happens next? The exact plan is submitted for development–but perhaps with four columns on the exterior, rather than two. Also, it is almost impossible to find out the process of these developments. Asking all aldermen, the clerk, the city manager and the city planner about the exact process resulted in nothing. 

    Developers should not be deciding the future of downtown. Nor should city countil against the will of the people they represent. We need a plan WITH citizen input. Hold off on all development until then.

    1. Zoning code

      While the City Council did not codify the downtown plan, all developments are required to follow the procedures outlined in the city’s existing zoning code.

      That code provides substantial flexibility in handling planned developments — but to claim it leaves the citizens “at the whims of the developers desires” is hyperbole, to put it gently.

      The claim that everything gets approved as a result of “closed door deals” and that the public approval process is a sham needs to be judged against — among other things — the rejection by the City Council of the first proposal for 831 Emerson.

      There is plenty of room for reasoned discussion about what should be built downtown or anywhere else in Evanston, but evidence-free claims that the process is rigged only serve to poison the debate. One might even suggest that’s “Trump-ish” behavior.

      — Bill

      1. Plan would dictate what we get

        First, thank you for publishing my comment. I am sorry my numerous tries and re-writes with another article did not result in anything.

        First, Melissa Wynne also stated at the meeting that a plan would mean that developers are building what the city needs and wants, other than how it is now–the council in a reactionary mode to what the developers present. 

        The 831 building was ultimately approved with about the same units and very, very little setback compared to all other buildings on Emerson. Yes, they had to revise it as even city council thought renting by the room (as a virtual private dorm) would not work in a residential area. Why did they waste their money with that plan? I would be thrilled to know about buildings that were not  built because city council voted against. Please advise.

        The process for these buildlings is not transparent in the least, even when one directly asks. It is not listed anywhere.

        Also…the public input. I was in a meeting for the library parking lot where the developer was told, “sorry we led you astray, this is not going to work–too high, etc. We will work on new parameters and start over.” I walked out the door thinking this would not happen. A short time later–another proposal from the developer with nearly identical height–that feels like a done deal. Must have been discussed behind closed doors. Where was the transparency here? Where was the process? Chance for public input?  

        Reading the standards and public benefits that buildings are supposed to follow in the “Planned Development” document compared to what goes on is a joke.

        1. Rejected projects

          Projects the City Council has rejected over the past decade or so:

          • Optima Promenade, an 18-story, later reduced to 14-story mixed-use development proposed for the southeast corner of Chicago Avenue and Davis Street in 2006.
          • Various Kendall College multi-family development proposals — ultimately approved for single-family development.
          • The Pritzker proposal for the Harley Clarke mansion.
          • The 708 Church Street tower — initially approved but eventually killed off when the City Council refused to grant an extention of time to complete the project.
          • Subsidized housing development on the northwest corner of Church Street and Darrow Avenue

          And that’s just ones that died at the City Council level that I can remember off the top of my head.

          The original 831 Emerson proposal was for a 14-story building with 297 units. What was finally approved was nine stories and 242 units. That’s hardly “about the same units” as you claim.

          — Bill

          1. 708 Church
            The 708 Church St. Tower was granted 2 extensions that amounted to either 4 or 5 years before the council nixed a 3rd extension. The Evanstion City Council has never been known for its transparency.

          2. Compared to what?

            Would you care to tell us about other municipal governments that you believe are more transparent and provide examples of their greater transparency?

            I’d be curious to hear about them. Perhaps there would be ideas that could be implemented here.

            — Bill

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