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Aldermen focus on downtown parking

Talk about parking dominated the first discussion of the proposed downtown plan by Evanston aldermen this week.

Aldermen disagreed about whether the plan goes too far in reducing parking requirements for new downtown buildings.

The city now requires 1.25 spaces for dwelling units with one bedroom or less, 1.5 spaces for units with two bedrooms and 2 spaces for units with three or more bedrooms.

The plan proposes switching to a model based on square footage with 1 space for units up to 800 square feet, 1.25 spaces for units up to 1,500 square feet and 1.5 spaces for larger units.

A parking study conducted for the plan found only about one parking space per unit in use at several new downtown buildings.

But that study was conducted during the summer, and Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, said a parking study conducted during colder weather by Carl Bova, one of her constituents, found an average of 1.38 cars per household in the new developments.

Consultant John LaMotte of the Lakota Group defended the plan recommendations.

He said for development in transit-oriented downtowns like Evanston, experience in other communities has shown the recommendations are appropriate.

LaMotte added that one of the plan goals is to reduce the size of the "parking box" under new buildings, and that can’t be done if the city doesn’t reduce its parking requirements.

"There’s still a parking problem in this community," Tisdahl responded. "People may drive less but they still frequently have two cars and we need to provide space for those cars."

But Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said having fewer parking spaces in a building would discourage driving. "We’re a so-called green city. We have to consider that."

Rainey added that while the city requires developers to build the spaces, it does not require condo owners to buy them — so some spaces may be unsold or underutilized.

Alderman Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward, argued for adding a requirement that buildings provide more guest parking.

Bishop said separate requirements for guest parking are uncommon across the country and that most cities try to build some space for guest into their basic parking ratios.

He also said most downtown plans today restrict the total amount of parking provided.

LaMotte noted that the city has 3,200 parking spaces in public garages downtown that can answer much of the guest parking needs for downtown residents.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, who chairs the city’s parking committee, said the downtown plan’s parking provisions need to be coordinated with results of the city’s multi-modal transportation planning project which is now underway.

Project review

Kirk Bishop of Duncan Associates, the lead consulting firm for the downtown plan, said the plan envisions three different levels of review for individual projects, depending on their impact.

Currently all but the smallest downtown developments go through a full review by the Plan Commission and City Council under the Planned Development process, which has been criticized as drawn out and filled with uncertainty.

Under the new system, Bishop said, projects that seek no height or floor area bonuses and have a maximum height of no more than 110 feet and a maximum floor area ratio of 3.0 would be reviewed by a broadened version of the Site Plan and Appearance Review Committee that provides a preliminary review of projects by city staff now. They would no longer be subject to Plan Commission or City Council review.

Larger projects that sought no bonuses would go through what Bishop called Major Project Review by the Plan Commission.

And projects that applied for any bonuses for public benefits would be reviewed by the Plan Commission and City Council in an approach similar to the existing Planned Development review.

Next steps

The aldermen will take public comment on the plan during their meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 24, and plan to hold a special meeting at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 4, to continue the review.

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