Downtown Map

After being criticized by aldermen last month for moving too slowly, members of the Plan Commission’s Downtown Plan Committee today agreed to cut in half their schedule for coming up with a new downtown plan.

After being criticized by aldermen last month for moving too slowly, members of the Plan Commission’s Downtown Plan Committee today agreed to cut in half their schedule for coming up with a new downtown plan.

They now hope to have the project finished by mid-summer rather than early next year.

City Planning Director Dennis Marino said handing off more work to a consulting firm will help move the process along. He said the staff expects to seek bids from consultants for the project by the end of the month and to have the chosen consultant at work by the end of February.

The full Plan Commission is also scheduled to have a joint meeting with the aldermen at the city’s Economic Development Committee meeting Jan. 24 to try to achieve more consensus on a range of issues.

In addition, the Plan Commission’s new chairman, James Woods, said he plans to attend each meeting of the City Council’s Planning and Development Committee to provide updates on the Plan Commission’s activities.

The group also hopes to have an e-mail address available for citizens to submit comments about the downtown plan by the end of the month.

Commissioner David Galloway said, “I think some people on the council were surprised by our thinking, and I know I’ve been surprised by some of their thinking. I think ongoing communication will help the prospects for approval of the overall downtown plan and also may help nip in the bud some projects that might be detrimental.”

The committee did not address the issue of providing specific rules to implement its preliminary designation of certain downtown areas as “traditional” or “transitional” zones that should have less intense development than the core downtown.

Those designations reflect a split in the community between residents who want to preserve the low-rise character of an older Evanston and those who see recent higher-density development as a plus for the city’s economic vitality.

The three traditional areas are along Davis Street west of the Metra tracks, on Sherman Avenue between Clark Street and the alley north of Church Street, and along portions of Sherman Avenue from Davis to Lake Street.

They all now have older, low-rise buildings, but all are also within a quarter mile of the mass transit stations and thus might seem appropriate for high-density, transit-oriented developments of the sort that have been built in many cases just a few feet away from the traditional zone boundaries.

One factor that units the zones is that they are divided into many small parcels under separate ownership, and so it’s been difficult for potential developers to assemble sizable tracts for new projects.

The transitional zones form a broken ring around the perimeter of the downtown a block or half-block deep in most places.

Without yet defining its terms, the committee says those areas should have less height and density than the downtown core, but more than what’s allowed in residential neighborhoods outside the downtown’s boundaries.

The committee also heard from Jeanne Lindwall, a former city staff member now working as a consultant for the planning firm Camiros, Ltd.

Ms. Lindwall urged that the committee make several additions to the traditional areas — adding the Fountain Square block, the Hotel Orrington and former Barnes & Noble properties, the former Marshall Field’s building, and even the new Church Street Plaza development. She also suggested shifting the Evanston Place development, that also houses the city’s Church Street parking garage, into the transitional zone.

The committee will meet again at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 31.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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