An effort by the low-rise faction on the Evanston Plan Commission to cut off debate and force adoption of lower downtown height limits failed tonight when members who tend to favor higher height limits walked out of the meeting.

After hours spent debating minor aspects of the plan, Commissioner Coleen Burrus moved to limit debate on all other issues to five minutes per commissioner.

As soon as that motion passed, with new Commissioner Seth Freeman casting the deciding vote, Commissioner Johanna Nyden moved that the height limit for the Fountain Square block be reduced from the 42 story maximum proposed in the draft plan to match the 30-story limit called for in much of the rest of the downtown core.

With Commission Chairman James Woods, whose has tended to favor the higher height limit, absent from the meeting, it appeared the motion might have the votes to pass, provided Freeman joined Burrus, Nyden and another height-opponent, Commissioner Robin Schuldenfrei, in voting for it.

But before a vote could be taken, Commission Vice-Chairman Stuart Opdycke, who had proposed deferring discussion on the height limits until Woods could be present, called the move to vote on the key issue with Woods absent a “despicable power play” and said he planned to leave the meeting in protest.

After learning from Planning Director Dennis Marino that the nine-member commission must have five members present to have a quorum, two other members — Charles Staley and David Galloway — joined Opdycke in the walkout.

Burrus said her motion to limit debate was a response to the acrimonious tone of the discussion at the commission’s previous meetings on the downtown plan. But Staley responded that it was just likely to make the debate more heated more quickly.

After watching the spectacle, Ann Dienner, a former Plan Commission member observing the session in her role as a member of the Preservation Commission, said, “I didn’t have this much fun when I was on the Plan Commission.”

Burrus acknowledged after the meeting that, depending on who Mayor Lorraine Morton appoints to fill a current vacancy on the board, the commission’s ultimate recommendation to the City Council could change dramatically.

The City Council last week voted to table action on the Fountain Square tower project until after the Plan Commission makes a recommendation on the downtown plan.

Marino had told the aldermen then he expected the commission could wrap up work on the plan by June, but with the commission not scheduled to meet again until June 11, it seems doubtful the June deadline will be met.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Something is Rotten in Evanston
    When the rabidly pro-skyscraper Aldermen — Moran and Rainey — staged a desperate parliamentary ploy, that violated Robert’s Rules of Order, to delay the skyscraper project because they were going to lose a vote, they claimed it was perfectly appropriate. Those aldermen who were against the skyscraper — Wynne, Hansen, Holmes, Tishdal, and Bernstein — nevertheless accepted that shameful maneuver to put off a vote on the skyscraper. However, when the plan commission members who don’t want a huge building downtown called for a simple vote to put limits on the height of the downtown plan (something the majority of Evanstonians want), the pro-skyscraper cabal charged foul and left the room. According to the Daily Northwestern, here is what acting chairman Opdycke said: “If this is some kind of power play when our chairman [Jim Woods] is absent, I think this is deplorable. We don’t have the benefit of his expertise and people are playing a parliamentarian game, and I will not be a part of it.” Well, Woods was one of only four people at the May 7 meeting who spoke in favor of the skyscraper, so “expertise” translates into support for the skyscraper. The fact that the chair of the plan commission would speak in favor of the skyscraper at a special meeting for public comments in and of itself shows how desperate the pro-skyscraper cabal has become. Of the four people who spoke in favor of the skyscraper at that meeting, one was Woods, another was a Chicago resident, and a third did a Power Point presentation with slides that had logos of the developers.

    It is becoming increasingly clear to residents, and perhaps to the press, that something is rotten in Evanston. Why are a few individuals so intent on protecting the skyscraper when so many people are against it? Why have they twice now resorted to extreme measures — pulling a parliamentary ploy at the May 7 Planning and Development committee meeting and staging a walk-out at last night’s Plan Commission meeting — to keep the skyscraper project alive? Something unusual (to be mild) is happening in Evanston. Hopefully someone will get to the bottom of this.

  2. Evanston Tower
    Unless there has been a secret vote behind some close doors I would like to know where Peter Sanchez has received his data when he states in reference to the height limitation to be placed on the Evanston Tower: “(something the majority of Evanstonians want).”?
    At what point was it decided that the majority of Evanstonians were in favor of a height limitation? Based on the low number of the yard signs warning against the “Tower” being built in downtown I would venture to say that the vast majority of Evanstonians don’t mind the tower or have no opinion. What is the basis for his comment. Is this unbiased reporting?

  3. A First Hand Observer’s Reaction
    Come on, Peter, calm down. Conspiracy theories are fun but usually simply products of the theorist’s’ vivid imagination. Something rotten in Evanston? When did differences of opinion become “cabals” and create rot. Evanstonians have a long history for taking hillocks too seriously and getting consumed by them. So, from time to time, many of us seem to enjoy becoming characters in some guerrilla theater rehearsals.

    I think, the discussion last night, moving directly into the most contentious of the “parking lot” issues was mistaken without having a calm discussion of the why commissioners wanted to do this. Taking on “parking lot” issues, by its nature is designed to keep those items for last, And the timing for this should have the agreement of the group. There was no attempt made, first, to discuss and put in context, as a group, the impact of the Council’s action on the work of the Plan Commission and develop an agreed process to meet the needs of both groups. That would have gone a long way to avoid the rather snitty departure.

    Reliance on Robert’s Rules of Order is indeed a fine tool for making orderly progress through potential divisive terrain; but one shouldn’t think that it can suddenly be dropped into the middle of a less rigorously directed, congenial process without some displeasure/discomfort.

    But, Peter, every misstep or oversight does not mean there is a “cabal”. Or perhaps there are many mismatched “cabals” brewing.

    From long observation, I prefer to believe that in all our uniqueness, venal motives are not part of our characteristics.

  4. Signs everywhere
    I have to agree with the previous commenter. Something is going on….I see signs against the tower EVERYWHERE in evanston and I do not go out that much.

    I don’t understand why it’s being pushed when everyone is against it.

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