A 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.

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.

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.

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.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Tower needs to be in the plan
    If the City Council is really interested in easing the tax burden for its citizens then it should modify the plan to entice developers to keep their eyes and capital in Evanston.

    Evanstonians more than ever need to work hard to ensure a good working relationship with developers and potential businesses. The old days of acrimonious opposition to the tower I hope are gone. The Council and staff have to work even harder to maintain activity in downtown and not let it fall by the wayside.

    That means bringing in more businesses, but more importantly, coming up with a plan that would work not just in today’s down market but what the needs would be when it ascends.

    The wedding cake theory still has merit and if it’s in the overall plan, it would attract another developer who could create something exciting, sort of the finishing touches to a grand downtown.

    The plan in its current state is wrong – 25 stories in the Fountain Square is too limiting, and probably won’t attract anyone for years, even after the market rebounds.

  2. let the NIMBYs have their way…for now
    Anonymous Al wrote:
    The plan in its current state is wrong – 25 stories in the Fountain Square is too limiting, and probably won’t attract anyone for years, even after the market rebounds.

    Al – I agree about the need for development, specifically the tower. But I propose that we let the NIMBYs have their way – at least temporarily.

    Let’s face it, we aren’t going to get much development for the next few years, no matter who is in charge. Therefore, I propose that we elect a pro-NIMBY slate of aldermen and a NIMBY mayor to preside over this period of stagnation.

    This way, we can blame everything on the NIMBYs, and in four years elect a new, progressive council and mayor – and build the TOWER!

  3. West Davis Traditional Zone J Makes No Sense
    The West Davis Traditional Zone J, east of Oak Avenue, should be absorbed into the West Core Zone G.

    The “wedding cake” concept of having the downtown’s tallest buildings in the core and a cascading series of building height steps down to the perimeter of the downtown area has been widely accepted in this process.

    Given this, it makes no sense that the West Davis Traditional Zone J be limited to three to five stories. This zone is surrounded on all sides by building heights ranging from 25 stories to the east, 18 stories to the north and south, and 8 stories to the west. Most of these surrounding building heights have already been built.

    Despite the “traditional” designation, there is little of architectural value on the block between Oak Avenue and the train station, so I can’t understand why this block should be “protected” from development.

    As it is, this downtown plan looks like a wedding cake after the bride has already served the first slice.

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