Save Central Street
Save Central Street

Evanston 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.

Evanston 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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Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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1 Comment

  1. As Moran pointed out,
    As Moran pointed out, Tisdahl’s assertion that parking requirements are met ignores the developer’s not including the clearly planned (and desired by residents) restaurant; with the restaurant included parking requirements are not met. This is only one of a host of fudges that Tisdahl and the city staff have approved.

    Tisdahl’s comments regarding the vacant property which otherwise will not be developed (which is currently vacant only because the developer caused all but one of the existing tenants to leave), are also clearly wrong. As evidenced by recent property transactions, many involving the same developers, Central Street, and particularly this area immediately adjacent to the Metra station and already existing vibrant commercial blocks, is very attractive to developers, especially as downtown Evanston sites become scarce. See [link to be added].

    The comparison with the legal wrangles at Chicago and Main is off-point and misleading. Moran was not advocating that these lots should be rezoned B1a with application to the current project. He knows that this project would be “grandfathered in” under the prior zoning.

    Moran’s point, and that of the “Save Central Street” group, is that this project should be turned down as clearly inappropriate under and an abuse of current B2 zoning (for all the many reasons stated in residents’ presentations and messages to the council) and to prevent it from preempting the Central Street planning process which is about to get under way.

    Tisdahl herself has asked the Plan Commission to rezone this area B1a, as was recently done in the west Central business district, in recognition of the fact that B2 allows greater height and density than is appropriate for the Central Street corridor, given already serious parking, traffic, and pedestrian safety problems and the unique character of the Central Street business district as a magnet for people from not only Evanston but surrounding communities.

    But this project does not even meet the intent and standards for B2 zoning, which is meant to provide substantial commercial space on the ground floor with moderate commercial or residential space above, as currently exists all along Central Street or as increased to at most three stories (which is what the B1a zoning provides for), which is the most stories that can be built if the B2 purposes and requirements are taken seriously. Residences are not allowed on the ground floor; these are supposed to be substantial commercial properties that add to the viability and vitality of the existing pedestrian-oriented business districts.

    This developer in each of its projects (ongoing Prairie Street project above Prairie Joe’s on Central, proposed Theatre project on Central, proposed Transmision Shop project on Central), unlike all other developments along Central Street, minimizes commercial space on the ground floor (only about 25% for the Theatre project, comparable for the Transmission Shop project, and a laughable 5-20 feet deep strip along the front of the Prairie Street project) and instead fills it with parking (rather than using underground parking as with all other new projects by other developments on Central Street), so that it can use as much as possible of the allowable occupied floor space (parking, stairs, storage, mechanicals, loading docks, etc. do not count) for upper floor residential space. Even then, the developer is entitled to only 20,000 square feet of residential space as a matter of right; it wants 82,205 plus, with only 11,250 commercial on the 41,000 sq.ft. ground floor.

    As everyone, including the city council (which apparently does not care), recognizes, this developer is abusing B2 zoning to build high, dense, lot-line to lot-line residential condo buildings without the restrictions applicable to such buildings in residential districts, such as significant setbacks and restrictions on lot coverage.

    There are many very good reasons to deny this project, which for 60-100+ years will be a huge out-of-scale elephant on Central Street, comparable only to Dyche Stadium and Evanston Hospital but dwarfing all existing and reasonable future development on Central Street and destroying its unique charm and attractiveness to residents of Evanston and neighboring communities.

    For further information, see http://evanstonnow.com/blog/217.

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