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Downtown plan meeting ends with walkout

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.

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