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City seeks to clarify ‘public benefit’ rules

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Evanston aldermen tonight are scheduled to discuss a staff proposal intended to clarify the city’s requirements that planned developments provide public benefits in exchange for the grant of zoning allowances.

The existing rules have come in for criticism for appearing to allow developers to list benefits inherent to the development itself — like an increase in the city’s tax base — or otherwise required by the zoning code — like achieving a LEED silver environmental rating — as counting toward the public benefit requirement.

The current public benefits section of the city code runs just 192 words. The proposed new one is over 900 words long.

It strikes out references to improving the tax base, achieving LEED silver and “creating a pleasing environment.”

And it adds a long list of public benefit examples, including:

  • Providing more affordable housing than required by the city code.
  • Encouraging alternative modes of transportation with car-sharing spaces and memberships, bike share sponsorships and other strategies.
  • Providing streetscape improvements, including street trees, benches, wayfinding signage and wider sidewalks.
  • Providing infrastructure improvements like traffic signal upgrades and traffic calming measures.
  • Funding public art displays near the development.
  • Achieving LEED Gold or higher environmental certification, certification for migratory bird protection or providing electric vehicle charging stations.
  • Creating apprenticeship or training programs for local residents.
  • Preserving and restoring historic landmarks on or near the property.
  • Dedicating park space to the city, providing publicly accessible park or garden areas in the development or providing funds to maintain or upgrade existing nearby parks.

The new ordinance would also add a lengthy — but ultimately vague — set of standards for evaluating the sufficiency of public benefits and provides that the City Council may ask for additional public benefits beyond those proposed by the developer as a condition for approving the project.

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