Neighbors opposed to a planned college dormitory on Central Street have lost the first round of their battle.

1620 Central St.
1620 Central St.

The City Council Monday voted unanimously to adopt zoning amendments to implement the Central Street master plan including one that would permit dormitories as a special use at a site under contract for purchase by National Louis University.

The school wants to move its PACE program for young adults with multiple developmental disabilities to the now-vacant office building at 1620 Central St.

Ken Bailey of 1602 Central St., a leader of the opponents, said, “The good news for our neighborhood is that a coalition has been formed among the neighbors that got its start only three weeks ago.”

“We’re now looking forward to participating in the special use hearings,” if the college moves forward with the proposal.

Opponents insisted that they were not opposed to the persons with disabilities who would be housed in the building and said they would be opposed to its use as a dorm, regardless of who was housed there.

Kathleen Ward of 1604 Central St. said residents of her condo building were also concerned about the laat-minute addition of the special use provision to the zoning plan, which had been under review for several months.

Jack Lawlor, an Evanston resident and attorney for the school, said that current zoning for the site would allow multi-family redevelopment of the property with twice the density of the current building.

By contrast, he said, the college proposes to renovate the existing building without substantially expanding it.

He said the text amendment to permit dormitories as a special use was properly considered by the Plan Commission and approved by it and that the 7th Ward neighborhood would have adequate protection through the special use approval process.

Patrick Hughes of 1317 Livingston, the son-in-law of 7th Ward Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, said he supports the PACE project and that a graduate of the program is one of his best friends.

Alderman Cheryl Wollin, 1st Ward, said, “I just don’t see that a special use is going to have as disastrous an impact on the area as has been portrayed. But we don’t have to grant special uses.”

Zoning administrator Bill Dunkley said including the special use provision “only allows the possibility of a property owner to submit an application.”

The broader provisions of the zoning plan, hotly debated last year, were approved without further discussion Monday.

Jeff Smith of 2724 Harrison St., president of the Central Street Neighbors Association that figured prominently in the debate, praised the new zoning and the process leading to its adoption.

“In a time of cynicism, it’s been an uplifting and invigorating process,” Smith said, “and it shows that citizens can make a difference.”

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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