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City panel OKs Central Street development

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The long-delayed plan to redevelop the former Evanston Theatre site on Central Street is moving again. A city staff panel Wednesday approved revisions to the project that will switch it from a condo to a rental development.

The long-delayed plan to redevelop the former Evanston Theatre site on Central Street is moving again. A city staff panel Wednesday approved revisions to the project that will switch it from a condo to a rental development.

The revisions to the planned development ordinance for the site still require approval of the city's Planning and Development Committee and the full City Council.

The unanimous vote by the city's Site Plan and Appearance Review Committee on the project known as The Eastwood came after a presentation by developer Bob Horne of Dodge Capital LLC and architect Mike Breclaw of OKW Architects.

They detailed their plans to switch from 51 condo units to 78 apartment units, while staying within essentially the same footprint as for the original four-story project approved by the city in 2007.

Top: A rendering of the revised design. Above: Horne discusses the challenges of the project.

Horne said that he "put his heart and soul into trying to get the building launched." But it was right at the time 'the condo market cratered in 2008."

"So thankfully we didn't actually start building" unlike other developers who ended up with unsalable projects, Horne said. "And we've been sitting on vacant land, which we'd like to activate now" with the rental project.

Architect Mike Breclaw.

Breclaw said the new plans call for 81 parking spaces on the ground floor level, 56 in large garage that would be entered off Eastwood Avenue, and 25 more in individual garages that would be entered from the alley.

He said the building would be set back five feet from the alley, which itself is just 14 feet wide, to make it easier for cars to turn into the garages. In addition the development will also place utility lines in the alley underground, eliminating poles that now obstruct traffic.

The developers are requesting that the city make Eastwood, which is one-way northbound now, two-way from Central Street to the alley, so that residents won't have to enter the alley from Poplar Avenue at the other end of the block.

Horne said the ground floor will also include about 10,600 square feet of retail space — most likely including a "white-tablecloth Italian restaurant." He said the old plan had very shallow retail spaces with depth of 30 to 35 feet.

The rental development, because it calls for fewer parking spaces than the condo plan, will have retail space depths of 50 to 52 feet, Horne added.

The ground floor will also include amenity spaces for tenants including a fitness room and internet cafe area.

Kevin O'Connor, of 1227-1/2 Isabella St., complained that the project — with 19 fewer spaces than the condo version — wouldn't provide enough parking.  And O'Connor attacked Horne as "an out of town developer (from Winnetka) who comes in to make money, leaves and we're left with the problems."

Kevin O'Connor reads his statement opposing the project.

But Dennis Marino, who heads the planning unit within the city's Community and Economic Development Department, said studies by the Urban Land Institute indicate that condos always have more cars than rentals.

He said the city requested the developer to provide a parking and traffic study, which indicated that there is plenty of off street parking in the area in the evening, when the planned restaurant would be likely to do most of its business.

The second floor of the building would include a green roof over a portion of the garage.

Horne said hes also working on agreement with the owner of an office building across the street to permit evening parking for the restaurant in his 32-space lot.

Marino said the plan now is scheduled to go before the Planning and Development Committee on Sept. 26.

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