Storefronts in the 1000 block of Davis
Storefronts in the 1000 block of Davis
Storefronts in the 1000 block of Davis

Business owners who own their buildings don’t like the downtown plan’s limit on building height in the 1000 block of Davis Street. But a business owner who rents on the block told aldermen Tuesday night the limits are just fine.

The proposed plan, now being debated by the Planning and Development Committee, would limit buildings that front on that block of Davis to a  maximum of five stories.

But just across alleys behind the shops, buildings could rise as much as 18 stories. And just to the east, across the Metra tracks, they could be up to 25 stories tall.

Chris Mailing, who owns 1027 Davis and operates the Turin Bicycle shop there, said what’s being proposed for the west Davis traditional zone is “highly inconsistent” with the wedding-cake style zoning used elsewhere downtown, in which greater height is allowed closer to the center.

“This is like a wedding cake with a slice taken out,” Mahling said.

He argued that his block is in effect being penalized for its success. Because other sections of downtown have failed to live up to their financial potential, he said, developers found the cost to acquire property on those blocks less than it would have been on Davis Street.

Mahling, who organized last summer’s downtown bike race, added, “In a world addressing global climate change, with less auto traffic and green transportation becoming very important. West Davis is the perfect place to have high-rise development because it is right next to the CTA and Metra stations.”

The 1000 block of Davis is in the area labeled “J” on this map. A comparison of the proposed height limits across the downtown area can be found here.

Alan Zreczny, who owns 1012 and 1014 Davis and operates the Audio Consultants store there, said limiting the growth potential on the block also adversely affects his ability to run his business.

“A lot of people finance their businesses through lines of credit that are secured by the value of the properties they own,” Zreczney said. “If my bank sees I’ve been downzoned, I’m going to havv a smaller asset to borrow against.

Scott Steinman, who owns the building at 1030 Davis and the Studiomedia Recording Company there, urged aldermen to “stand in the middle of the street and spin around. You’ll see higher buildings all around.”


Highrises visible looking northeast from the Pine Yard restaurant at Davis and Oak.

“Our buildings are not really very charming,” Steinman said. “You could take them away and have something much more charming in their place.”

“There’s office space concerns for Evanston. We’re a great block for all that because of the easy transportation access,” he added.

But Judy Fiske, who recently opened the Fit and Frisky pet shop at 1016 Davis and rents her store space, said the block “really works” the way it is.

“There’s not one vacancy on this block,” Fiske said, “and it has successful businesses we can feed off of,” like the veterinary office across the street.

Fiske, who has worked on historic preservation issues and is planning a second run for 1st Ward alderman next year, said, “Parking on this block is wonderful,” so customers can park nearby and don’t have to carry the 40-pound bags of dog food the shop sells very far.

She said there’s also no problem with store employees tying up meter spaces in front of the stores because there’s employee parking behind the shops.

“If you allow development, you can say goodbye to small home-grown businesses like ours,” Fiske said.

Although some of the business property owners had written to city staff several months ago to complain about the plan’s impact on their area, Tuesday’s committee meeting was the first time their concerns were publicly discussed.

The downtown plan will also be the subject of a special Planning and Development Committee meeting Dec. 4 and will be on the agenda for the committee’s regular meeting Dec. 8.

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More stories on the downtown plan

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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10 Comments

  1. Somewhat Arbitrary
    Having been one who has attended far too many meetings around this plan, the one piece that never made much sense to me was the somewhat arbitrary nature of the Davis Street downsizing.

    The interests of those building owners affected by the downzoning, apparently was not greatly considered.
    Or it was indeed considered and determined that for the greater good of the city, the plan’s down zoning changes superceded the interests of a handfull of building owners.

    If that is the case, I would defer to the knowledge and expertise of the consultants and the plan commissioners, but in no event would I defer to those who are in opposition with no expertise other than wanting things to be the way they want them.

  2. West Davis Street Traditional area proposed zoning height
    As a member of the Plan Commission who worked on the downtown plan for the past three years I believe objections concerning the downtown plan’s proposed building height in the 1000 block of Davis needs to be clarified. The West Davis area that is proposed to be Traditional is NOT BEING DOWNZONED. This area today has a low height limit under current zoning. Some owner’s just assumed that if they, or their property’s future buyers, wanted to build a tall building the Council would allow a planned development of any height ignoring the zoning.

    Citizens that believe this street should be UPZONED should make this opinion known to Council. Just please accept the fact that asking for a potential height increase is different than suggesting that the street has lost value due to a reduction in the by-right development limits which is not really proposed.

    1. Height limit on Davis
      Hi Larry,
      The existing D2 zoning for the 1000 block of Davis allows 42 feet of building height plus an additional 40 feet of height for parking, for a total of 82 feet.

      The new zoning for the area would cap building height including parking at 60 feet.

      In that sense, I think the property owners have a case that they are being downzoned under the new plan — although in asking for height equivalent to existing buildings across the alley from them, they’re asking to be upzoned as well.

      — Bill

  3. Pier One closing- more to come
    While the debate over what Downtown Evanston wants to be when it grows up drags on and on and while the parking ticket stalkers continue to scare away customers, Downtown Evanston is slowly but surely emptying out. The small independent stores are leaving due to lack of customers and I bet if the big boxes would talk they’d say they are struggling to survive also.

    There is more to Downtown Evanston than Church and Maple and north Sherman Ave. where there are an abundance of stores that cater to the college aged. The rest of Downtown retail is vanishing at a rapid rate, just take a walk on Orrington and the five blocks of Davis Street; the number of empty store fronts is alarming. It sends a message….”There is not enough shopping in Downtown to make it worth the effort”

    For Downtown Evanston to thrive we need more not less
    independent boutiques. In order to lure more retail business, both big and small, we need to stabilize and keep the stores that are already here…..one way to do that is for each and every Evanstonian to shop Downtown for whatever they can whenever they can; especially during this holiday season.
    It might take a while for new shops to take a risk and open in Downtown, but in the meantime the exodus can be stemmed, if Evanstonians shop Downtown first.

    Of course, there are other rather frustrating factors bearing on the state of Downtown, but the lack of Evanston customers is a huge factor that can be easily fixed.

    1. independent boutiques
      For Downtown Evanston to thrive we need more not less independent boutiques. In order to lure more retail business, both big and small, we need to stabilize and keep the stores that are already here…..one way to do that is for each and every Evanstonian to shop Downtown for whatever they can whenever they can;

      Well, I live downtown, and I am not going to spend money at ‘independent boutiques’. I will spend my money at stores that sell things that I need or want – like CVS or Whole Foods or Peets. It would be nice if there were a Trader Joe’s and IHOP downtown too.

      What kind of ‘independent boutiques’ do you want? What will they sell?

      For merchants to thrive, they need to sell things that people need or want. It would also help if we had more residents downtown (tower!).

      1. more people downtown
        Given the current real estate market, the suggestion to increase the customers for IHOP and other mass marketers, is to increase density. With a new, more liberal administration, perhaps the city could get HUD money (or a bailout) to build high rises to replace the vanishing Cabrini Green.

        Just think of the jobs that would provide with the city’s new contractor policy. It would make for a new vibrant, thriving downtown, and perhaps those anti-progressive NIMBYs would leave.

      2. Hurrah for Evanston’s independent stores!
        My favorite establishments in Evanston are all independent or small businesses:

        – The Spice House (1941 Central Street) offers incomparable quality and selection

        – Williams Shoes The Walking Spirit (714 Church St.)has cute and comfortable ware

        – The Alley Gallery (1712 Sherman Ave.) has framed every new piece of art I’ve bought since moving here

        – The Unicorn Cafe (1723 Sherman Ave.) and Cafe Ambrosia (1620 Orrington Ave.) both serve great coffee and have unique atmospheres

        – The Celtic Knot (626 Church Street) has delicious pub food and a welcoming staff

        If these businesses leave and are replaced by generic chains like more Whole Foods or CVS stores, my shopping dollars are following the interesting independent places to Andersonville or Edgewater.

        1. independent stores
          1. “The Spice House (1941 Central Street) offers incomparable quality and selection” – maybe, but how often does one need to buy spices? I suspect that most of their business is not retail, anyway. Do you think that they could survive by selling only to Evanston residents? [Just ask them!] Of course not…they sell to restaurants and other customers throughout Chicago and nationwide. Where do you think they get their cinnamon and mahleb? Does it grow in Evanston?
          Spice House is a good argument AGAINST protectionism and provinicalism.

          2. “- Williams Shoes The Walking Spirit (714 Church St.)has cute and comfortable ware”. So do Hanig’s and Macy’s.

          3. “The Alley Gallery (1712 Sherman Ave.) has framed every new piece of art I’ve bought since moving here”. Again, how often do you need to buy a frame?

          4. “The Unicorn Cafe (1723 Sherman Ave.) and Cafe Ambrosia (1620 Orrington Ave.) both serve great coffee and have unique atmospheres” Starbuck’s and Argo have better hours. Peet’s is bright and clean, nice atmosphere.

          5. “The Celtic Knot (626 Church Street) has delicious pub food and a welcoming staff”. OK. I haven’t been there. The restaurant business is very competitive – so if Celtic Knot is doing well, that is good. No need for protectionism , no need to keep other restaurants (like IHOP) out of downtown.

          [by the way..if the folks in the Willard house had their way, Celtic Knot would be out of business. ]

          6. “If these businesses leave and are replaced by generic chains like more Whole Foods or CVS stores, my shopping dollars are following the interesting independent places to Andersonville or Edgewater.”

          Really? Are you going to drive down to Edgewater to buy coffee if Unicorn goes out? Are you going to drive to Andersonville to buy oregano – instead of stopping at one of the Whole Foods or Jewel?

          Anyway, many of the ‘generic chains’ are in fact owned or managed by local franchisees. Why is the owner of the Celtic Knot (whoever it is..nothing against that person) any more deserving of our support than the owner of the Skokie IHOP? ( and does Celtic Knot have a bottomless coffee pot and butterscotch pancakes?) Why does Williams Shoes deserve any more support than Hanigs?

    2. Didn’t Pier One close because of flooding from LA Fitness?
      I’m pretty sure that Pier One closed that store on Sherman because there was a problem with LA Fitness’s pool leaking into the space, not because they were struggling due to economic factors.

      Otherwise, I agree that Evanston residents should try to shop (and dine) in Evanston, rather than going elsewhere. However, I think the current decline in Evanston’s retail is a result of the current economic situation more so than increased competition from outside sources. Also, Evanston’s stores tend to be more upscale, and in this market people are more likely to shop at places like Costco and Target than they are at local boutique type stores.

  4. Where were these property owners for the last year?
    As the Chair of the Plan Commission who has been actively involved inthe Downtown Plan discussions for the past two years, I have often wondered where these property owners were throughout the process. They finally showed up during the final meeting or two of the Plan Commission as we were preparing our final recommendation to the City Council’s Planning and Development Committee. Where were they for the preceding year as the Downtown Plan was being worked on by consultants who would have engaged them, by the Commission who wondered where they were??? Now they finally show up, they do need to be heard but it would have been better for the whole process if they had showed up when they were supposed to show up.

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