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Downtown north planning OK’d

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Evanston aldermen Monday night agreed to move forward with planning for possible rezoning of an area along the CTA tracks just north of Emerson Street. But they disagreed about how big the study area should be.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, suggested focusing only on the block bounded by Foster Street, Sherman Avenue, Emerson Street and Maple Avenue.

But Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, suggested expanding the study area as far north as Noyes Street and that the area covered should range generally from Ridge Avenue on the west to Sherman on the east.

Delores Holmes.

Both Foster and Noyes streets have Purple Line stations and small commercial districts around the stations.

Holmes said she was concerned about the vacant former Noyes Street Cafe building, while Fiske voiced concerns about how to revive the neighborhood commercial area around the Foster station that she said was disrupted decades ago when buildings were demolished for what's now the parking lot north of Englehart Hall.

City staff had proposed a study area ranging from Ridge to Sherman, but only extending north to the Foster Street station.

Two aldermen at the Planning and Development Committee meeting — Fiske and Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said they were opposed to creating a tax increment financing district that might include the study area.

That deals a blow to hopes of backers of a proposed downtown performing arts center of creating a new TIF running along the CTA tracks to support that project.

A third alderman, Brian Miller, 9th Ward, who's not on the Planning and Development Committee, has previously joined Fiske in voicing opposition to the TIF idea.

Aldemen also said they didn't want to hire a consultant to do the zoning study and wanted to save money by having staff do it in house.

Fiske said the planning process should include getting more information from Northwestern University about where its students in off-campus housing live now — how many now live close to campus, or further away, elsewhere in Evanston or in Chicago — and whether those living further away now actually want to live closer.

Damir Latinovic, planning and zoning division manager for the city, said the university has provided information indicating that the school's residence hall capacity is planned to grow only modestly — from 4,047 next year to 4,511 by 2025.

The school plans to require sophomores as well as freshmen to live on campus starting in 2017 — but with roughly 3,900 students in those two class years, that still means nearly 4,000 upperclass undergraduates and 3,400 Evanston-campus graduate students will need off-campus housing.

Melissa Wynne.

Latinovic said that so far he's not been able to get detailed information from the school about where off campus students are living.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said zoning in the area now is a mixture of several different zones. "This sets up one battle after another over every parcel about whatever a developer comes in to propose," Wynne said.

"To the extent we can get ahead of the process and decide what we want there, that would be much, much better," Wynne added. "The community gets to have its say. And it's better for developers, because they'll know what to design."

Community Development Director Mark Muenzer said the first meeting to gather public input on possible rezoning for the area will likely be held in mid-May with a small group discussion format similar to that used in developing the inclusionary housing ordinance.

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