Johanna Nyden.

An ordinance scheduled for a final City Council vote Monday would eliminate a public stage from the approval process for new development projects in Evanston.

As introduced at the June 13 Council meeting, the ordinance would eliminate public meetings of the city’s Design and Project Review Committee and instead allow developers to meet informally and privately with city staff to review their plans.

In a memo accompanying the ordinance, Community Development Director Johanna Nyden said staff instead would “make information available on the city website” about new projects and would accept online comments about projects from the public.

But neither of those measures were included in the text of the proposed ordinance.


An example of the existing process

Planned developments typically get the most intense review by the city and draw the most public comment. Here’s how one proposal currently under consideration — for the Kensington School at 3434 Central St. — has gone through the review process so far and what steps remain before it could gain final approval.

Sept. 29, 2021 — Kensington owner Chuck Marlas appears before a public meeting of the Design and Project Review Committee for a preliminary, conceptual review of the project.

April 11, 2022 — Marlas presents revised plans for the school at the Unity Church site on Central Street to a public meeting of DAPR. The committee recommends approval of those plans.

June 22, 2022 — The Land Use Commission holds a public hearing on the proposal and votes to continue the hearing next month.

July 27, 2022 — Scheduled date for the Land Use Commission to make a recommendation to City Council about the project.

Aug. 8, 2022 — Earliest date at which the project could be introduced at the Planning and Development Committee and City Council.

Sept. 12, 2022 — Earliest likely date for a final City Council vote on the project.


With planned development reviews taking a theoretical minimum of at least three months, and often extending for close to a year, some council members have proposed streamlining the process.

But eliminating notice to the public of DAPR meetings could mean residents would have far less time to express their support for, or opposition to, a proposed development.

At the Council’s June 13 meeting Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) introduced the proposed ordinance and Ald. Tom Suffredin (6th) seconded it.

It was approved for introduction on a 5-2 vote with only Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) and Ald. Devon Reid (8th) voting against it.

Reid said he sees a benefit to having DAPR hold public meetings.

Nyden indicated staff may provide some revisions to the proposal before next Monday’s meeting.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation

11 Comments

  1. If promoting affordable housing is one of the city’s objectives, then cutting down the number of bureaucratic steps to approval of a project will promote that objective.

    1. So we want to stifel public awareness of projects so we can just ram pet projects down the residents throats ? What are these obstacles are to “affordable housing”? 17% of housing stock in Evanston is “affordable”. The state requirement is 10%. Why is there this relentless push for more ? What is the magic number we are trying to get to Evanston? And who is the housing for? Current residents or non-residents on Chicago waitlists?

  2. Keeping the public aware and informed is a critical step with any government project. It’s the people’s money; they have a right to know how it’s being used, and for what purpose. These hearings may seem redundant but they’re part of the process. Don’t let our local government operate in the shadows. It would be a huge mistake.

    1. They’re not talking about government projects and public money. These are private projects that need some level of government review and approval. It makes sense to streamline in an effort to attract more investment to Evanston. We need to do what we can to attract investment and new residents; adding people is far and away the best way to support our retail and services businesses.

      1. Whether it involves public money or not, transparency is important. Getting something done fast shouldn’t come at the expense of public transparency. If they were going to approve a strip club on your block, should that be done without letting the public know first?

        1. DAPR is a first stop where professional developer meets with professionals, working city’s zoning, building, engineering, fire, traffic, public works in order to show his/her initial intentions and receive a professional feedback and possibly some directions to make project approved at the further stops such as ZBA, Planned Commission, etc, etc. The packet for the project is published on cityofevanston.org ahead of time. DAPR notice will be emailed to all residents who wish to subscribe to city emails.
          Every resident may submit comments and questions ahead of DAPR. Unfortunately, these strictly technical meetings were often transformed into never ending political circus by certain Evanston residents and by “prepaid” out of town agitators and saboteurs.

  3. The public has a right to know about projects. People that live in or frequent areas in our city have valuable information about the make up of neighborhood/block, and traffic and public uses and desires. This step cannot be removed from the process without causing upset and ultimately dramatic unwanted changes to Evanston. PJ made good points. The light of day needs to be on all projects and we need to keep the citizens involved. This is an important step of the process.

  4. The last thing that should be granted to the City Council of Evanston is the opportunity to be more secretive.

  5. This is a terrible idea and would further empower reckless spending staff recommendations for projects in our community and meaningfully reduce transparency (which appears to be one of the goals here.)

    This is the same staff that gave the citizens of Evanston an OVER 100% cost overrun new Ice Rink… they also want to sell public assets off like the Civic Center and build us a $50 – $100 M glass & steel building downtown w/o parking (this is another terrible idea!. The latest is spending over $500,000 to narrow the roadway and reduce the parking on Poplar St. against the wishes of nearly ALL the residents of that street (and Ward!). This has got to stop and MORE citizen oversight (or an Inspector General) is required!

    Respectfully, Brian G. Becharas

  6. What other approval steps could be shortened, BESIDES eliminating the input of Evanston residents? Why does it take months for other steps to be implemented?

    As residents, we have the right to comment on what may be happening in our own City and Wards.

    When I first lived in Evanston 35 years ago, I thought this was THE place to live in Chicagoland. Since moving back here five years ago, I’m beginning to have my doubts. Some of these can be chalked up to the devastation by CoVid of some businesses that I loved, but compromising transparency in Government cannot be blamed on the pandemic.

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