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Downtown plan heads for council

Downtown plan map

Downtown plan mapA plan for downtown Evanston conceived in the midst of a real estate boom will come up for debate by aldermen next month in the midst of a severe real estate downturn.

The Plan Commission this week finally voted to approve the plan a year after getting the consultant's report that forms the basis for the document.

After much acrimonious debate followed by efforts at compromise, the commission made several changes to the map proposed by the consultants — all of which have the effect of reducing proposed allowed heights in the affected areas.

Original map
The downtown zoning map in the original plan prepared by the city's consultants.

The most dramatic change involved the Fountain Square block, which was absorbed into the larger neighboring core area — reducing the proposed maximum building height on the block from 42 to 25 stories.

That attempts to assure that no new building in town will exceed the height of the 1960s-vintage 1603 Orrington Ave. tower.

Revised map
The map as revised by the Plan Commission.

But other changes were far less dramatic. For example, the commissioners carved out a new West Link zone a half block wide and two-and-a-half blocks long on the east side of Ridge Avenue in which the maximum height was reduced from eight to six stories.

Map legends
The legends for each map, showing proposed height limits. The original version is on the left.

The commissioners also edited the plan's goals to place additional emphasis on encouraging the rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of older buildings in the plan's traditional zones and bringing more arts and cultural activities to the downtown area.

The plan claims that its provisions would "simplify and streamline" development regulations and touts a "form-based" approach to zoning that would define the physical shape of new buildings as another way of adding predictability to the process.

The actual zoning regulations would be developed only if the City Council adopts the new plan.

The plan also would only let buildings rise to their maximum permitted height if developers follow a bonus program that would provide floor area and density incentives for underground parking, superior environmental standards, on-site affordable housing, affordable office space and other features that would add to building costs.

For aldermen wrestling with the city's budget crisis, most of whom see continuing downtown development as a way to limit the tax burden on other city taxpayers, a question that certainly will arise is whether developers will still step up to deliver new projects in the city if the new plan's provisions are adopted.

The plan notes that 1,643 units of new housing were added to Evanston's downtown between 1997 and 2007.

But while the 110-unit Winthrop Club condominium tower is continuing construction, the three other downtown projects originally scheduled to be under construction this year have been stalled by the slowdown in the nationwide real estate market.

The proposed downtown plan and a variety of supporting documents can be downloaded from the city website.

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