Barnaby Dinges
Barnaby Dinges

Evanston mayoral candidates disagreed Tuesday about the merits of new tall buildings downtown.

Asked at a candidate forum hosted by the Kiwanis Club whether they would have voted, as the City Council did this month, to approve a 385-foot height limit for the Fountain Square block, two said yes and two said no.

Barnaby Dinges
Barnaby Dinges

Barnaby Dinges said he would have voted for the new height limit. But he criticized the city’s existing downtown zoning rules, saying they lacks sufficient controls and that led to bad blood in the community and an extreme response by opponents after the original 49-story tower project for the 708 Church St. site was proposed.


Elizabeth Tisdahl

Elizabeth Tisdahl, who as 7th Ward alderman would have voted on the height limit if she hadn’t been absent from the meeting where the vote took place, said she would have voted against the new height limit. But she based her objection on a different provision of the plan that would permit a building roughly 25 stories tall on the block by right. She said that’s too much height to permit without getting some public benefit in return from developers.


Stuart Opdycke

Plan Commission Chairman Stuart Opdycke, who voted for a similar height limit when the plan was before the commission, said he’s in favor of what the aldermen did. “I think there’s a place in Evanston — one place — for an iconic building of extraordinary height,” Opdycke said, and the Fountain Square block “is the place, the only place.” Opdycke said he’s lived in Evanston all his life and downtown “has never been as exciting and vital as it is today.”


Jeanne Lindwall

Jeanne Lindwall, a former planner for the city who worked on the last downtown plan, said she opposes substantial height on the Fountain Square block, calling it “one of the most walkable blocks in all of downtown.” She also claimed that the new height limit would amount to illegal spot zoning.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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1 Comment

  1. Lindwall and spot zoning
    “Jeanne Lindwall, a former planner for the city who worked on the last downtown plan, said she opposes substantial height on the Fountain Square block, calling it “one of the most walkable blocks in all of downtown.” She also claimed that the new height limit would amount to illegal spot zoning.

    Illegal ‘spot zoning’? Since the new height limit is part of a comprensive plan, it will be hard to sustain that claim of ‘spot zoning’.

    More importantly, I wonder what Ms. Lindwall and the other Tower-haters have to say about the recent glorious decision of the Illinois Appellate Court, striking down Chicago’s vague ‘historic preservation’ laws:

    An article in Crains Chicago Business says:

    “An Illinois appellate court has struck down the city of Chicago’s landmarks ordinance, saying it is unconstitutionally vague, putting in jeopardy the city’s protection of more than 250 buildings and 50 historic districts.

    The ordinance, which was enacted in 1968, prohibits any demolition or alteration of properties that are designated landmarks by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, an eight-member body appointed by the mayor.

    The commission, whose decisions can be overturned by the Chicago City Council, makes landmark designations based on seven standards that the court found violated the Illinois Constitution because they were too vague.

    “We believe that the terms ‘value,’ ‘important,’ ‘significant,’ and ‘unique’ are vague, ambiguous, and overly broad,” Appellate Court Judge James Fitzgerald Smith wrote for a three-judge panel.”

    In an otherwise pro-NIMBY column, Blair Kamin writes :


    The laws are based on a 1978 U.S. Supreme Court ruling which stopped the bankrupt Penn Central Railroad’s attempt to pile a 55-story office building atop New York City’s Beaux-Arts Grand Central Terminal. In that ruling, the court held that communities have the right to safeguard significant pieces of property, so long as they do not trample the rights of the properties’ owners.

    The key word is “significant,” a word that appears frequently in Chicago’s seven criteria for landmark designation, as in the site of a significant historical event or a building that is the work of a significant architect.

    The Appellate Court ruling, written by James Fitzgerald Smith for a three-judge panel, argues that such terms are “vague, ambiguous, and overly broad.” It challenges whether members of the commission “can be well-guided by these terms” and suggests that just about any building could be made to fit such loose criteria.

    Here in Evanston, the NIMBYs almost always resort to vague, ambiguous, and overly broad undefined terms (‘unique’,’charming’,’historic’) to prevent insignificant buildings (708 Church, Mather) from being torn down or remodeled. Like the column says, “any building could be made to fit such loose criteria”. It is nice to see the courts are starting to come down in favor of property owners here.

    I suspect that the Tower-haters will resort to law suits to overturn the decision of the democratically elected Council to raise the height limit downtown. Fortunately, it looks like the courts will not support them.

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