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The theory that Central Street is unique and that rules that apply in the rest of Evanston shouldn’t apply there are set to come up for debate at the Plan Commission next month.

City staff has proposed scrapping a provision of the seven-year-old Central Street master plan that bars use of site development allowances for planned developments on Central — allowances that are available for developments in all other areas of Evanston.

The proposal was scheduled for debate at a Plan Commission meeting tonight, but the commission voted to postpone the discussion until next month after a last-minute protest by John Walsh, president of the Central Street Neighbors Association, the community group that fought for the exemption last decade.

The issue is now scheduled for discussion at the commission’s Sept. 10 meeting.

In recommending the change, Community Development Director Mark Muenzer said 32 of the 35 planned developments approved in the city since 2000 have required site development allowances to be viable.

The allowances include relief from parking requirements, setbacks and height and floor-area-ratio restrictions.

Muenzer says the allowances let the city negotiate larger public benefits from developers.

The move for changing the rules now appears to be prompted by what apparently would be the first planned development project proposed on Central Street since the real estate market collapse that occurred about the time the plan was adopted.

That’s a proposal for a 47-unit rental residential development on the site of a long-vacant office building at 1620 Central St. that had once been proposed for conversion to a dormitory for developmentally disabled young adults in a program run by National Louis University.

Walsh says he’s hoping to arrange a meeting for CSNA leaders with Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, city staff and the project developer before the Sept. 10 Plan Commission meeting.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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15 Comments

  1. What “public benefits”?

    Mark Muenzer says planned developments can allow the City to negotiate "public benefits from developers."  What "public benefits" did the City negotiate when it allowed the Central Station apartment complex at the site of the old theaters (other than what would have otherwise been required)?  Under the zoning code, that building should have been limited to 3 stories, should have had a 30-foot rear setback, and should have had more parking.  What public benefits did the City negotiate for the nearby residents who pay the price for the zoning variances?

    If we could trust the City, this would be different.  But the City Council routinely appears ready to rubber-stamp the plans of developers, even when the Plan Commission recommends against it.  For example, the Plan Commission voted to reject the plans for Central Station, and the City Council approved, anyway.  Years later, when the Central Station developer wanted to change its plan, the City Council again approved, denying any further Plan Commission hearings, in disregard of the due process rights of nearby neighbors.

    In view of this history, the City can't be trusted, and the provision in the Central Street Master Plan should remain.

    1. Central Street

      It's about time! North Evanston has been treated like it's own city for too long. Welcome to reallity!!!

    2. What?

      Central Station was sorely needed in that area and is now bringing a sorely needed new restaurant to a dead area for food. There are zero nice apartment buildings in that area and they are filling a need.

      1. Missing the point

        Jon: The question that you don't answer is to what extent incentives to the developer were required for the Central Station apartment to be built, or to what extent the incentives were just for additional profit for the developer.  If you're right that there was a "sore need" for a new apartment building, I assume you mean that there was demand for additional apartments in the area, as reflected by the brisk pace of leasing in the new building.  Given that, the developer should have had an incentive to build the project without the zoning variances that the City granted.

        When the City permits a "planned development," it allows various exceptions to the zoning code.  In exchange, as Mark Muenzer suggests, the City is supposed to negotiate certain public benefits the developer wouldn't otherwise be required to provide.  For instance, in exchange for a height exception, the developer might deed a small part of the project to the City to be a public park.

        In the case of Central Station, I'm not aware of any special public benefits of that nature that the City negotiated.  The City could have driven a harder bargain in this case, and the building would still have been built.

    3. millions in benefits

      No public benefit? What about the millions upon millions in r.e. tax revenue that development generates over the years.  I believe that benefits every single school and every single child in Evanston, I believe that broadens the tax base providing relief to every single person living in the City of Evanston, every single person. 

      Oh dear me, a building was built 4 stories instead of three, the tragedy, the complete and total ruination of a major commercial steet, the sky is falling as I speak.  

      Next thing you know someone will propose putting in housing to assist disabled young adults, oh, the list of things to object to are endless, we must organize and fight this crazy madness, 

      1. By that logic, no need for zoning codes at all

        There's no need for a zoning code at all by that logic.  The zoning codes protect the people who live adjacent to properties like the Central Station.  Variances in height and set back requirements directly impact adjacent property owners.  It's one thing to say that people who buy houses adjacent to a commercial district should expect buildings there, but it's another when the City permits zoning variances topermit bigger buildings with smaller setbacks than what would otherwise be permitted.  If the rest of Evanston stands to benefit in the "millions upon millions," perhaps the City could have compensated the adjacent land owners a tiny fraction of that amount.

        Regarding "millions" in real estate tax revenue, that's a myth.  How much additional tax revenue will Central Station generate because it was 4 stories instead of 3?  The answer is none because that's not how real estate taxes are calculated.  Instead, the taxing districts decide how much revenue they need and divide that amount into the assessed base.  So the additional units just mean that everyone else pays a tiny amount less, which of course is offset by the additional people who will live in the building and send their kids to the local schools and use City services.

        1. A myth, seriously?

          The millions are a myth, really?  I understand perfectly well how r.e. tax revenue is calculated and billed.  Here is simple fact, as you said, the taxing bodies decide they need x millions of dollars, to be divided and charged amongst the current assessed tax base.  

          But now we, the taxpayers, currently have one more substantial development to help shoulder that burden in paying those x millions of tax dollars.  New developments help share the burden in amounts that are literally, millions upon millions of dollars.  Dollars that the existing taxpayers would have had to cough up out of their own pockets if the developments didn't exist.

          So your argumens are the typical canards raised by anti development types that no public benefit is derived from development.  Again, every single school, every single child, every single person, without exception, living in Evanston, receives major direct benefit from development, especially those of modest means struggling to pay their current tax bills.  

          And your claim of more kids taking up that extra revenue is another complete canard.  District 65 just announced flat enrollments, estimates of maybe up to 61 new students, but currently, six days from the start of school, there are 88 students fewer than last years enrollment. 

          Now maybe you want to continue insinuating that all the new students are coming from that one single 4 story building on Central, but I doubt anybody would buy such nonsense.  So the benefit derived, less the nominal additional expenses, means, once again, huge benefit to the tune of millions upon millions, to every single man, women and child in Evanston.  Period.

          I could go on about your zoning, city services, etc, but for the moment, I'll simply close by saying the talk of untrustworthy City staff and officials is ridiculous.  

          I may not always agree with them, but they do a pretty good job, Evanston certainly has issues, but it is a better City today than 25 years ago.  And much of that is due to the City understanding the benefits of, and encouraging, development.

          1. Get a grip on yourself and

            Get a grip on yourself and resign from your current position. If it wasn't for our street lights, Evanston would be named Chicago North. We have the same corruption, the same crime, and the same mis-trust of our government officials as Chicago.

            I only see 2 things that have improved in Evanston in the last 25 years, and certainly our city government is not one of them.

            We can point with pride to our police and fire departments. They were very good 25 years ago and continue to get better, despite city government's interference.

          2. get a clue

            If you can't walk around Evanston and see the improvments over the last 25 years, then your extremely sight impaired.  The reason we are not Chicago north is because of development, development encouraged by the City, overriding the same predictions of calamity and catastrophe always expounded by the anti development factions.

            As I said, we have issues, but overall this community is so much better off, better off than any other inner ring suburb in all of Chicagoland.  If you don't think so feel free to move to Dolton, Maywood or Harvey, no development going on there.  

            Evanston is no longer losing residents, we no longer have stagnating business districts, property values, while affected by the recession like the rest of the country, survived with much less damage than others and have been recovering as well if not better than all other inner ring suburbs.

            Oh, I don't work for the City, so you can quit riding that ridiculous little conspiracy donkey of yours.

  2. Is Howard Street unique?
    Why are there no TIFs on Central Street – simple businesses want to come – without the city putting out funds- I did forgot Curts Cafe – ofcourse is that a business or a social service?
    On Howard street we have the famous Wine and cheese Bar paid by the taxpayers. Why would the city want to increase density and allow higher buildings? Would this effect the feel of Central street? Yes – it would hurt – the small business district effect. Council members have no understanding of real world business issues or planning. How many of them actually hold full time jobs?
    The neighbors on Central street – could be called NIMBYs but then again – a plan was put in place to preserve the quality of the shopping districts, not allow individual developers to be put single large developments up and disrupt the effect of a small business district. Look hard at Chicago avenue, with the large building and the shopping put inside these buildings, hardly wants you to walk the neighborhood to shop. Then again we had council members wanting to aid developers with our money, to build office space the market would not support. Giving public officials the so called ability to create planned developments on Central street, when they can’t plan anything – is just another excuse for chaos and the destruction of the small businesses that exist there now. Jane Grover should not be elected again to any office in Evanston if she does not work to protect Central Street. ( ofcourse she did not do much to stop the sale of Harley Clarke and protect our Lake Front )

  3. A question for residents of the Central st. area

    If you were given the opportunity to annex your part of the city into the Village of Wilmette (and New Trier Township) how many of you would vote in favor of the annexation?

    1. In a Heartbeat

      I live just off of Central and would love to be annexed by Wilmette – beater quality of life and lower taxes!

    2. Evanston or Wilmette ?

      If someone not familar with the area ask someone who lives north of Lincoln where they live, the response will probably be 'near the Wilmette border' or if east of Greenbay 'by the stadium.'

      Whether they admit it or not, people north of Lincoln associate themselves more with Wilmette than Evanston.  And many wish they were part of Wilmette but given the 'white guilt' and liberal angst [though they keep as far away from proletariat let alone minorities as they can] won't freely admit it.

      If not for the Stadium, there would probably have been a move towards getting Wilmette to anex the area long ago.

      1. That’s crazy talk

        That's crazy talk.  I live "north of Lincoln", actually north of Central, and I have no desire at all to be part of Wilmette.  We'd sell the house and move south.

  4. Here is the city again with

    Here is the city again with more special variances, more exemptions.  Evanston has already given us quite enough chaotic neighborhoods.  It should not be allowed to continue.

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