Aldermen: Speed up downtown planning

Three aldermen say Evanston's downtown planning process is moving too slowly.

At Thursday night's Economic Development Committee meeting, Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, said he found Tuesday's public meeting held by the Plan Commission's Downtown Plan Committee disappointing.

"They're talking about transition zones, but on the north end of downtown we've now just about lost on transitions," Ald. Moran said, referring to the recent approval of the 18-story Carroll Place development at 1881 Oak Ave. and the pending proposal from the same developer for a 14-story building at 1890 Maple Ave.

The Downtown Plan Committee has proposed that transitional areas at the edge of downtown should have lower building height limits than what's permitted in the core downtown area, but after nearly a year of work has yet to apply any numbers to the concept.

"Do we have a horizon on this?" Moran asked. "I felt that there was really not enough to talk about" at Tuesday's meeting.

City Planning Director Dennis Marino said the Tuesday meeting "was meant to be a bit of a kickoff" for the planning process and that the Plan Commission hopes to be ready to make recommendations to the City Council's Planning and Development Committee by the end of 2007 or early 2008.

The city staff also expects to seek City Council approval in January to hire a consultant to do a pilot study of form-based coding — a test of a new technique for rezoning the downtown area. "We need to know how to apply it on a demonstration basis to see how effectively it works," Mr. Marino said.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, suggested the Plan Commission needs to keep the council "better informed of where this is going so that over the next eight or nine months we don't approve things that are completely counter to what's going to be the trend from the Plan Commission."

"We're having buildings proposed in the transitional areas that are much higher than what we've seen before. It would be much easier for us to turn them away if we had this new plan in place," she added.

Ald. Moran said, "They need to get onto it. I'm not saying finish in two or three months, but there are development pressures downtown that continue. A lot can happen in a year or 18 months. This needs a pretty hands-on effort and some sense of urgency."

Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, said she agreed that the process doesn't seem to be moving fast enough. She called for having a joint meeting of the aldermen with the Plan Commission about how to proceed.

Ald. Wynne said the west side study that's scheduled to be submitted to the City Council in January "looks to me like a very good blueprint for the process from start to finish. If we could have a downtown plan move at that same kind of pace, that would be very helpful."

The west side planning process was launched in April with City Council adoption of a 120-day moratorium on issuance of new building permits amid hopes the planning process could be completed in four months.

The council has since extended the moratorium twice, but the two consulting firms the city hired for the job are now wrapping up revisions to their reports after a second presentation to the Plan Commission this week.

The process appears to be on schedule to lead to adoption of new zoning for the area by February — 10 months after it began.

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