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Council asked to halt downtown growth

Evanston aldermen are scheduled to decide tonight whether to stall downtown development for six months while a consultant works on a new master plan for the area.

The moratorium idea, which seemed dead after several aldermen criticized it at a special Planning and Development Committee meeting earlier this month, was revived after Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, asked city staff to draft an ordinance to impose it.

In a memo accompanying the draft ordinance, Community Development Director James Wolinski said the staff believes "the wrong message is sent to the development community" by moratoriums "that the city is not interested in development" especially "when the moratoriums are extended beyond their original expiration date."

The city’s two recent moratoriums, on Central Street and on the West Side, have both been extended.

The west side moratorium, originally imposed in April 2006 for four months, finally was allowed to expire this month — 13 months after it began.

The Central Street moratorium, imposed in September 2006 for six months, has been extended in scope and is still in effect eight months later.

Mr. Wolinski said that because of the importance of downtown "as an economic engine for business, retail, entertainment and dining," the council should not extend a moratorium there if it chooses to initially impose one.

Even if a moratorium is imposed downtown, two recent proposals for high-rise buildings on the Fountain Square block may escape its effects.

In his memo Mr. Wolinski said the first plan, for a 49-story tower at 708 Church St., has completed several early steps of the planned development approval process and therefore should be considered "in the pipeline" and exempt from the moratorium.

And the developers of the second plan, for a 37-story tower atop the Hahn Building at mid-block, have asked to make a special presentation to the Planning and Development Committee tonight of its proposal, before the moratorium vote.

That development team has also completed some of the steps Mr. Wolinski outlined as placing the other project "in the pipeline."

The aldermen have scheduled a highly unusual executive session during tonight’s Planning and Development Committee meeting, after the developer’s presentation but before the moratorium vote.

Also on tonight’s council agenda is consideration of a proposal for a 14-story mixed-use project at 1890 Maple Ave.

That project was approved by the Plan Commission last month. It drew support from some neighbors who praised its design and said it would be a vast improvement over the vacant office building now on the site. But other neighbors, including residents of the 28-story building at 1720 Maple Ave., objected to the building’s height and claimed it would increase traffic congestion in the area.

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