Once again owners of condos in a tall Evanston building are complaining that another tall building will obscure their views.

This time it’s residents at 1570 Elmwood Ave. — variously known as Evanston One or the Winthrop Club.

They’re complaining that somebody at city hall — we haven’t heard who exactly — supposedly told them that under the downtown plan prepared in 2007 nothing taller than 42 feet could be built next door, at 1571 Maple Ave.

To save other condo buyers disappointment if the future, here’s a guide to how to figure out what could be built next door to you.

First, don’t rely on the downtown plan. While it was approved by the City Council, zoning changes that would have implemented some of its provisions have never been adopted. And it’s the zoning code, not the plan, that really governs what can be built.

The city’s zoning ordinance can be found online in Title Six of the city code. And the zoning map, which tells you what rules apply where, can be found online here. (You can also find the zoning district for any particular address by entering that address on the city’s tax parcel mapping tool.)

The maps tells us that, for example, the parcel at 1571 Maple Ave. is in the D3 district.

Chapter 11 of the zoning code deals with “D” — or downtown — districts.

And there we discover that: “The maximum building height in the D3 district is eighty-five (85) feet.”

But wait, there’s more. It goes on to say:

“Building height (floors or stories) when seventy-five percent (75%) or more of the gross floor area is devoted to accessory parking decks, up to a maximum of four (4) stories or forty (40) feet, whichever is less, shall be excluded from the calculation of building height.”

Turn that into plain English and you get a maximum potential building height of 125 feet.

Oh, and one other thing. Evanston’s zoning code provides for something called planned developments.

And that section of the zoning code makes it clear that if the City Council becomes convinced that a proposed development offers sufficent public benefits — they can waive the height limits otherwise imposed by the zoning code.

And almost all sizable developments downtown, including the one now proposed for 1571 Maple, fall under the planned development rules.

So when you buy a condo in Evanston, don’t take it for granted that the view your unit has today will be the view that unit will have forever.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Building Height


    This building is going to be 12 stories high or 120 feet and there is no plan for parking in the building. Doesn't that limit the building to a maximum height of 85 feet? Based on the formula, off site parking should not be a factor in the building height.

    Or is this building going to be 85 feet, making each unit about 5 feet, floor to ceiling?

    Please explain.

    1. Building height

      Since the building is a planned development, hypothetically the sky is the limit on height.

      Practically speaking, since the developer is proposing to lease what the city considers to be sufficient parking at the city's Maple Avenue garage, proponents will argue that it can stay within the 125 foot height limit using what might be considered "virtual" floors of parking.

      The City Council could say no to that idea … but it could also say yes and still be within the provisions of the planned development rules.

      — Bill

      1. It sounds like the city

        It sounds like the city council can do just about anything it wants.It doesn't need to be something that benefits the city. They do not really care that somebody just bought a condo in a highrise building and paid extra for the view and their next view will be their new neighbor, 25 feet away in another building. I realize that this happens all the time and that is why I would never move into a highrise. But having our city council MAKE UP rules as they go along is just like cheating and most people do not like cheats.

        I guess that is why they say never trust a politician, especially the ones that you voted for.

        1. By golly, now you have it.
          By golly, now you have it. The City Council does whatever it wants to do. That is exactly what needs to be illuminated. The loose language and ability to create adaptive ordinances as they go along.

  2. Yes, please explain how

    Yes, please explain how providing 13 unassigned  (really 11 because 2 are proposed car share spaces) parking spaces justifies the planned height 125 foot height of the building. 

  3. My Take-Away

    "…  if the City Council becomes convinced that a proposed development offers sufficent public benefits — they can waive the height limits otherwise imposed by the zoning code.."

    My take-away from this article about zoning, especially the snippet above is: "Don't buy a condo in Evanston."

    The zoning might change.  The parking might be two or more blocks away.  The city might fund every project that comes along with you, the taxpayer, ultimately footing the bill.

  4. caveat

    Anybody who buys a condo next to an empty lot and thinks they have some kind of guaranteed rights to "their view" without some written contract stating such guarantee is, quite frankly, amazingly naive.

    Anybody who buys a condo in a high rise built in a highly urban environment neighbored by two story buildings, and then thinks, ala Sherman Plaza residents, that they have some guarantee to "their views" because of some sales reps casual statments, is also amazingly naive.

    Anyone who thinks zoning, anywhere, doesn't have exemptions granted is also amazingly naive. The planned unit development process allowing zoning exemptions exits in virtually every city and town in this country, and has also been extensively utilized and implemented in virtually every city and town nationwide.  Actually nationwide isn't enough, worldwide would be much more accurate.

    When you are going to make one of the largest investments of your life, you have a personal responsibility to understand what you are buying.  Anyone who thinks the casual comments made by some city bureaucrat concerning an empty lot next door, and not reading the fine print of their closing contracts, isn't doing their due diligence responsibly. 

    Caveat Emptor, not exactly a new concept.

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