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Critics target west side plan

Efforts to plan an orderly transition to residential and commercial uses for the fading industrial corridor along Evanston's west side came in for sharp criticism but also some praise Monday night.

Efforts to plan an orderly transition to residential and commercial uses for the fading industrial corridor along Evanston's west side came in for sharp criticism but also some praise Monday night.

At the session, aldermen, meeting as the Planning and Development Committee, took their first formal look at the proposal that was approved by the Plan Commission Jan. 10 following several months of neighborhood meetings.

Bessie Collins of 2024 Wesley Ave. and Edwina Wesson of 2018 Wesley Ave. said they had heard that the plan calls for the city to tear down the affordable rental apartments they live in.

"I'm getting ready to be a senior citizen," Ms. Wesson said, "I don't want to be left out in the cold."

Those two apartment buildings on Wesley owned by the Evanston Housing Coalition and four single family homes in the 2000 block of Green Bay Road are the only existing residential properties proposed for redevelopment in the plan which calls for creation of several hundred new housing units.

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, said the city would not tear down the properties. "We don't have the capital to tear down anything," he said.

But he added that if a developer wanted to redevelop the Mayfair Triangle, "the plan would be a guideline to help us determine whether what they plan to do is consistent with a positive vision for the community."

The plan suggests including new affordable housing units if that tract is redeveloped.

Mary McWilliams of 1606 Wesley Ave. said the plan "is sound and well thought out."

She said discussion at the community meetings was "lively and thought-provoking and generated a wide variety of ideas."

She said residents agreed that the new housing should be affordable and that redevelopment should not be an excuse for gentrification.

Developer Ron Fleckman of Cyrus Homes said that city staff has been treating the plan "not as a guideline, but more like a religion or bible." He said there's been "a certain rigidity and inflexibility" in interpreting the plan — even before it's adopted by the City Council.

Cyrus Homes has a proposal to redevelop of the Bishop Freeman factory site on Foster Street within the plan area working its way through the city's review process.

Walter Kihm of Cyrus Homes said the plan doesn't provide enough housing diversity. "You have a wall of townhouses marching from north to south through the area," he said.

He said the city has spent six months reviewing plans for a 300-foot parcel on Central Street, the former Evanston Theater building, and "has spent very little time proportionately on thousands of feet in west Evanston."

"It's not like a developer to ask to take more time in a planning process," Mr. Kihm said, "but I think this area should be given the importance it deserves."

Carlis Sutton of 1821 Darrow Ave., one of the leaders of opposition last year to the Darrow Corners affordable housing project, said the new plan would result in "an extreme expediting of the gentrification program and further erode what is now a diverse community."

Roberta Hudson of 1941 Dewey Ave., said the plan called for too much new housing "in an area that is already congested."

"It's impossible to get through the streets" when activities are in session at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Recreation Center, said Ms. Hudson, who lives across the street from the recreation center, "What are you people thinking about to pack this many people in a small area like this?"

Tina Paden of 1122 Emerson St. said she owns properties at 1507 Emerson St. and 2012 and 2018 Darrow Ave. and predicted new development would lead to increased taxes that would make it impossible for her to keep renting to low income tenants. "They're going to take me out," she said, "This needs to be denied."

Bennett Johnson, editor of the Evanston Sentinal, said the project would divide Evanston into two communities. "Now we're going to have a wall of townhouses for wealthy people, not low income people," Mr. Johnson said.

The Planning and Development Committee will hold another meeting on the plan at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 22.

The Zoning Committee of the Plan Commission is reviewing more detailed implementation rules for the plan. It holds its next meeting at 8 a.m. on Feb. 12.

Copies of the plan proposals are available on the city web site.

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