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Aldermen decide to split west side plan

Evanston aldermen Thursday decided to split the west side plan into several parts. They suggested they would make some parts mandatory and some advisory. And they said they want other parts reworked before deciding whether to adopt them at all.

Evanston aldermen Thursday decided to split the west side plan into several parts. They suggested they would make some parts mandatory and some advisory. And they said they want other parts reworked before deciding whether to adopt them at all.

It was not entirely clear from the discussion which parts of the plan would fall into each category. The aldermen asked city staff to come up with recommendations about that.

Plans for areas 1 and 2 — from Simpson Street South to Church Street — drew the most skepticism from aldermen. There the plan calls for several new streets. Existing property owners complained the new streets would dramatically reduce the value of their properties. Developers said the streets would make new housing on the properties much more expensive unless the city paid for the roads.

In area three — from Lake Street to Church Street — the plans call for pedestrian paths rather than full streets to re-knit the neighborhoods split by the rail right-of-way, and the aldermen seemed closer to approving plans for that area.

The area three plan also calls for rezoning the intersection of Church and Dodge Avenue to encourage development of three- and four-story mixed retail and residential buildings. It proposes town homes for industrial property, provides for a bike path along the old rail bed and would expand an existing Evanston Township High School parking lot at Lake and Dodge to permit residential and commercial redevelopment of a school parking lot at Church and Dodge.

At one point Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, suggested the aldermen might make the entire plan advisory.

But Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said too much effort has been invested in the plan "to just say this is a vision and not do anything more serious."

She proposed splitting the discussion into different parts. That way, she said, "staff could give us some better guidance, people could reflect more on specific aspects of the plan and maybe more neighbors could buy into the process."

Alderman Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward, said he wanted to take time to walk through the area to further study what impact the plan would have, but said the plan seemed to be "one of the best pieces of work" he's seen in his time on the council.

Alderman Anjana Hansen, 9th Ward, said she wanted to see at least parts of the plan — those dealing with height limits and setbacks — made mandatory. If not, she said, "I think we are taking all the work the community has done on the plan and telling them your work doesn't count."

Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, said "I'm happy to have some of it be mandatory — but not tonight. I'd like to have staff pick and choose" what portions are ready for adoption.

To give staff time to make those revisions, the aldermen agreed to remove the plan from their already-published agenda for Monday's City Council meeting.

Although the planning process involved at least a half dozen extensively-publicized community meetings attended by an average of 50 people per session, on Thursday several people, including John Cahill, the owner of Cahill Plumbing at 1515 Church St., claimed they hadn't heard about it until recently.

Mr. Cahill asked whether it was prudent to totally eliminate industrial zoning in the area.

Community Development Director James Wolinski said he hopes Cahill Plumbing will be in Evanston another 100 years, but that the city has lost many industrial uses in recent years and has been unable to attract new ones because of high business tax rates in Cook County tax and the availability of larger land parcels in outlying communities.

"So we need to prepare for when this property is no longer industrial," Mr Wolinski said, "otherwise it's likely to stay vacant for years."

Joan Safford of 1618 Wesley Ave., was among speakers who voiced support for the plan, saying it's important to think about how new developments will integrate with the neighborhood so new people will "feel part of the neighborhood rather than part of a virtual gated community."

Iké May Dickson of the West End Area Block Club said members of her group had attended all the planning meetings. "We found the process to be very fair. Everyone had an opportunity to express their thoughts. Nobody got all they wanted, but we came together to come up with a plan for our area."

"It would be a great disservice to our children not to approve this plan," she added.

But Minnie Edwards, who lives in the 1900 block of Dewey Ave., said, "We need more policemen, not more condos. We have a lot of havoc on the west side and need to hire another 100 police officers."

Carlis Sutton of 1821 Darrow Ave. called the planning process a charade and said the meetings "stifled citizen participation rather than encouraging it."

Although the plan does not cover the land on which his home sits, Mr. Sutton insisted that "your plan shows me being eliminated."

And even though many developers who have acquired property in the area are Evanston residents, Tina Paden of 1122 Emerson St. claimed that "these people, the developers, do not live in Evanston."

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