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Aldermen revive theater condo plan

Save Central Street

Save Central Street

Save Central StreetEvanston aldermen tonight voted to reject the Plan Commission's recommendation against the Central Place Residences mixed-use condo project proposed for the site of the shuttered Evanston Theaters in the 1700 block of Central Street.

Save Central StreetEvanston aldermen tonight voted to reject the Plan Commission's recommendation against the Central Place Residences mixed-use condo project proposed for the site of the shuttered Evanston Theaters in the 1700 block of Central Street.

The 7-2 vote came despite the appearance of dozens of residents from all along the Central Street corridor who wore bright yellow and red name tags urging aldermen to "Save Central Street" from what they see as overly dense development.

The Plan Commission, in rejecting a proposed four-story plan for the site, had encouraged the aldermen to turn instead to the developer's original, five-story plan that would have saved a landmark house on the property.

The commissioners believed the earlier design was more architecturally impressive. But the added height was anathema to many neighbors.

Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, said she believed only 15 to 20 percent of neighborhood residents liked the five-story design.

She said the theaters have been vacant for seven years and no other private developers had offered to take on the project. Two non-profit groups that wanted to use the theater space were unable to come up with funding.

"I'm no good at predicting the future, but I've heard absolutely nothing from any developer proposing an alternative solution for this vacant property," Ald. Tisdahl said.

She said neighbors had raised several good issues, which led the developer to reduce the height, increase the setback to permit wider sidewalks on Central Street, provide all the off-street parking required by ordinance and increase the size of the first-floor retail space to make it suitable for a wider range of retail uses.

In addition, the developer has agreed to pay for burying utility services in the alley to eliminate traffic bottlenecks there.

She called for the aldermen to overturn the Plan Commission vote and consider an ordinance that would approve the four-story design at the Planning and Development Committee's next meeting on Jan 22.

Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, who represents the other end of Central Street, urged his colleagues to reject the project completely and rezone the area from B2 to B1a to to prevent such a tall project from ever being built.

That idea drew applause from the neighbors, but a somewhat similar approach by the city to a parcel of land at Main Street and Chicago Avenue led to an expensive lawsuit the city lost at all levels of the state's court system. The aldermen recently approved a settlement of that case that will see a nine-story building constructed on the Main and Chicago site.

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