The City Council this evening is scheduled to vote on hiring a team of consultants to prepare a revised downtown plan for Evanston.

The city staff is recommending that the $236,324 contract be awarded to a team led by Duncan Associates of Chicago.

Other contractors on the project would include the Lakota Group, which led the Downtown Visioning project in 2004 and is now working on the Central Street Master Plan, 180 Design Studio of Kansas City, traffic engineers KOLA Inc. and real estate market consultants Goodman Williams Group.

In addition to developing a new downtown plan, the project also calls for conducting a pilot study of form-based zoning for several downtown blocks and conducting a real estate market analysis and a parking utilization study, as well as a public participation process for the project.

The consulting contract is the outgrowth of over a year of work by the Plan Commission’s Downtown Plan Committee, which has been trying to figure out what, if any, zoning revisions are needed downtown after the recent wave of new development in the city.

At the Downtown Plan Committee meeting last Friday, Plan Commission Chairman James Woods offered several variations on possible new zoning maps for the downtown area.

The new proposals call for two transitional zones around the fringe of downtown, rather than the one transition zone contained in previous map drafts.

He also raised the question of whether the central core area of downtown should have uniform zoning throughout, or whether it should have two or three subzones with different height limits.

As a result of recent City Council and Plan Commission actions approving new high-rise projects along the south side of the Emerson Street corridor, Mr. Woods new map proposals call for exending the downtown boundary a half block north of Emerson, to the alley south of Garnette Place.

The committee has yet to come up with any firm proposals on specific height limits for different zones, but Mr. Woods suggested Friday that setting an average building height limit and requiring setbacks from the street a few floors above ground could give developers some flexibility about tower height while providing a pedestrian-friendly streetscape.

The committee also discussed the possibility of eliminating current height bonuses for enclosed but above ground parking, and providing such height bonuses only for underground parking.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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