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Chicago-Main project gets Plan Commission OK

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After developers baked more parking into their plans, Evanston's Plan Commission voted 5-3 Wednesday night in favor of a nine-story mixed use development at Chicago Avenue and Main Street.

The 112-unit rental development had been proposed with 104 parking spaces. At Wednesday's meeting the developers said they'd added two more regular spaces to the design and six tandem spaces,

They also proposed design modifications that would let them add car lifts to 15 spaces, potentially doubling their capacity.

The commission's debate largely centered around whether members believe studies that indicate developments near transit stations need less parking than ones further away from mass transit and to what extent a new project should be responsible for alleviating tight parking conditions in an existing neighborhood.

Scott Bernstein, president of the Center for Neighborhood Technology, said his group's analysis of block group level data from the Census Bureau's annual American Community Survey shows that city-wide Evanston households average 1.6 cars. But that drops to 1.17 cars per household for people living within a quarter mile of a transit station.

Bernstein, who lives at 917 Elmwood Ave., less than four blocks from the Chicago-Main intersection, said that for renters the figures are even lower — with renters living within a quarter mile of a transit stop averaging just 0.89 cars per household.

By contrast, Carl Bova, a structural engineer who lives at 1322 Rosalie St. in north Evanston, argued, based on city-wide data from the 1980 and 2000 censuses, that the number of people without cars in Evanston is not appreciably dropping.

Commission Chairman Scott Peters, a senior lecturer at the IIT School of Business, said he's been doing research on demographic changes in communities and "my numbers are the same as what Scott Bernstein presented."

He said the Evanston-wide numbers reflect that there "are still a lot of cars in Northwest Evanston where peole live in large single-family homes and have a different lifestyle."

Several people who live near the site said that parking in and around their buildings is very tight and they voiced fears that the new development would add to congestion in the neighborhood.

But Peters said a Supreme Court ruling nearly a century ago determined that "no single property owner should have to bear a burden alone that should be allocated among the public."

"In this case, if we are not able to move forward, this property owner is bearing a burden for all the buildings in the neighborhood that have no parking — and there are a lot of them."

But one of the three commissioners who voted against the project, Kwesi Steele, said he was convinced the new development would aggravate parking problems in the neighborhood.

The project now goes to the City Council which will make the final decision on whether to approve it.

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