Downtown: Time to bar the door?

It's time for Evanston to bar the door to major new downtown development, some speakers at Tuesday's Plan Commission hearing on the draft downtown plan suggested.

"If we let everybody live here who wants to live here, then nobody will want to live here any more," Jeff Smith of 2724 Harrison St. said.

Smith, who heads the Central Street Neighbors Association, suggested a landlocked community like Evanston has already achieved its optimal population.

Despite rapidly increasing property values over the past decade of downtown growth, Smith said he "has a hard time getting my head around" the draft plan's suggestion that downtown could accommodate up to 2,000 new housing units over the next decade without depressing housing prices.

But Smith, an attorney who has his office in downtown Evanston, said he favors the plan's call for form-based zoning and the general concept of dividing the downtown into three different zoning categories with different height limits. The district boundaries, he said, "by-and-large seem sensible."

A downtown map, annotated by Jeff Smith to show changes in feet in base zoning heights allowed under the proposed new downtown zoning assuming 12-feet per story. Since existing zoning permits essentially unlimited height bonuses for planned developments and the new proposal would sharply cap bonuses, the actual difference in outcomes is difficult to assess.  

Peter Sanchez, of 2228 Pioneer Road, said the new plan would accelerate negative developments downtown.

"We shouldn't be acting like an underdeveloped nation desperately seeking foreign investment," he said.

Sanchez, a political science professor at Loyola University, said, "If most residents are against the plan, but it's still approved, then its patently undemocratic."

Despite a summer-long string of public meetings leading to the plan's development, Sanchez insisted there has not been sufficient public input and said the plan should be put on hold "until the public policy process is carried out properly."

Vito Brugliera of 1304 Wesley Ave. noted the plan's call for requiring "green" design for new buildings, and said the most ecologically-friendly and greenest approach is to not build new, but reuse existing buildings.

Plan Commission members disagreed over how rigid to make conditions for giving developers height bonuses under the plan.

Commissioner Coleen Burrus said the benefits need to be more clearly defined and that most features -- like affordable housing and day care programs -- should be provided at the new development site.

But Commission Chairman James Woods said the plan actually provides very detailed formulas for determining bonuses.

Commissioner Johanna Nyden suggested developers might give cash contributions toward benefits that might vanish within a few years.

But Commissioner Charles Staley said the plan needs to retain flexibility and provide for a spectrum of possible benefits from new development while making sure that "some evil person doesn't do something with it that we didn't intend."

The commission will continue its hearing on the downtown plan, taking up what's expected to be the contentious issue of height limits in the downtown core, at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 27.

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Comments

Here, here

I couldn't agree more with Mr. Smith's assessment. Have you walked the streets of downtown Evanston lately? You feel like you're in Tokyo or some other over-crowded great metropolis of the world. When I moved to Evanston I came here because I wanted to get away from all the hustle and bustle of the big city. I dreamed of raising crops and, God-willing, a family. But now those dreams are being crushed by the out-of-control development that is devouring all the open green spaces that Evanston has been famous for. Ignoring the fact that the last census numbers for Evanston put the population of the city about 6,000 people, or 7%, below the 1970-level, I think it's clear that the population has exploded and has never been higher. I support Mr. Smith, and others like him, that want to keep more people from moving to Evanston to try and enjoy all things that brought us here.

not exactly crops....

I'm not quite thinking of raising crops, but the stated "pizzazz," in reality means that people cannot have it both ways. The grand irony of runaway real estate: getting away from it all only to bring it with you; that is, crass, uniform, over-development with a lack of local control, because the market dictates maximizing investment.
That means, hello retail franchise, increased security, traffic, density, and goodbye decent wages and some degree of trust, reciprocity, income equality, or quality of life. I don't for a second think this means more can't enjoy the benefits, but that those benefits become skewed.
Some of the pressures: the corporations that anchor those huge buildings are centralized and will return only what they must to the locality; they will negotiate to the last dollar the best possible deal for themselves. Local businesses may ultimately have trouble competing with a franchise that can spread their risk, and have little if any social investment in the town or region they locate in. The very thing that attracts people to Evanston in the first place.
That planned office tower will be in competition with expected, huge redundancy in Chicago. What would Evanston be forced to do to make the tower viable once it exists? What kind of incentives would it have to offer, and what guarantees that tenants would stay once they expire? Does anyone know?
I think Evanston should let the market cool to a sustainable level before it plans for any more development. It could get nasty out there, if it hasn't already. I'd prefer a careful look at the long-term over a painful, retro-active correction whose outlines we're already beginning to see at the national level.

City of Evanston is Going Down the Wrong Path!

I sat through 4 hours of consultant presentation and resident comments at the Nov. 6 Plan Commission hearing on the downtown development plan and here are my observations/reactions:

1. The organization of the meeting forced us to deal with minutia first rather than the big issues. It's much more logical and effective to deal with big issues first. The impression I was left with is that the city and consultants don't want the big issues raised. Who cares about the details -- location of parks, traffic flow -- if major resistance to the basic elements of the plan exist?

2. The consultants clearly took a position in favor of high-rise growth. This was obvious through their body language and their reactions to some questions. Why would the consultants, who are going to get paid their quarter of a million anyway (for writing a 108 page report with almost no research, and making some pretty slides), take such a visible pro-development stance? I find this very troublesome. Why should they care whether or not the city decides to scale down the height of buildings? Their clear desire for growth and high-rises gives the impression that they have some vested interest in the development that would take place if the plan is approved, which raises even more serious questions about possible conflicts of interest.

3. It is clear that citizen concerns expressed at the summer "Charrettes" were not taken seriously by the consultants. I looked at the spreadsheets that resulted from those focus groups and the consultants either completely misread them or chose to ignore them. No one challenged them on this serious oversight.

4. Why does the plan commission prohibit applause from the audience? Certainly most people in the room demonstrated preferences. And, while everyone's vote/voice counts the same, intensity is always an important thing to consider when making a decision. Frankly, I think the audience was way too polite and deferential, willing to sit patiently through 3 hours of parks, traffic flow, charrette talk, etc, when the big issues were being ignored. And, if fact, prohibiting people from applauding is tantamount to censorship. I suspect that applause was a way for residents, who sat there patiently for over three hours but who were opposed to the growth aspect of the plan, to express their intense agreement with criticism of high-rises and increased density.

5. On a more specific point, while the parking study may have used "accepted methodology" (as the consultants argued), it is laughable to employ a "study" that uses one data point (the consultants admitted that they collected the data on each building only one time). It may be proper methodology but it's not a large enough sample by a long shot. A statistically significant sample must have at minimum 30-50 data points.

6. It seemed to me that some people in the room, including consultants and some commission members, saw the debate over the new plan as a struggle against uninformed residents. This is a shame. No plan should go forward without full resident participation and support. And, no plan should go forward that is being produced in forced and non-objective manner.

The plan hearing

I could not agree more with Mr. Sanchez. Along with many others I sat through the interminable grope therapy session and was dismayed at the lack of interest in citizen input. Only a few brave members of the Plan Commission seem to be concerned with the citizens' interests. It seems the city is going through this charade because they have to do it or face legal consequences.

It is apparent that this new zoning is aimed at the salve for all city wounds: more development. That the city has used the fiction of a legally non-existent "pipeline" to exclude the tower from any zoning code revision speaks for itself. Moreover the reluctance to release the March 27 closed executive session transcript, despite Illinois State Attorney General's decision as to legality, can only cast suspicion on what went on with the developer.

It is encouraging that citizens such as Mr. Sanchez are concerned. Too bad the Council and administration are not.

Evanston is headed in the right direction!

I can't understand why some residents are against more development in the downtown area. I love the downtown area and the hustle and bustle. And judging by the people purchasing condos there as well as the hustle and bustle, so do a lot of other people. The low turnout in these meetings probably means most people support more development and the downtown master plan which will guide that growth in a more organized and sensible fashion. As a homeowner, I consider my home not just a residence but also an investment. And with any investment, I want it to be secure and grow in value over time. Real estate 101 dictates that if demand exceeds supply, prices increase. The inverse is true as well. If Vito, Mr. Sanchez and the other NIMBYs (not in my backyard) have there way, Evanston would have little or no new development. Why do you think real estate prices have increased tremendously in Evanston? Demand and location. There is a demand for people to move to Evanston - it is a unique suburb with a world class university and is along the lake with adequate mass transportation. Suburbs with these amenities attract people. When Sanchez bought his home he most likely paid more than the previous owner, thereby increasing the value of his home and home prices in the area. So, in essence, he has contributed to the increase in real estate values. Maybe those complaining about rising property prices, which leads to more development, should look to all the newcomers paying top dollar to live here. Because they are driving up the prices. Let the free market dictate growth with some government control i.e. a master plan. If you build it they will come. If you love Evanston, why in the world would you not want more people to move here and experience this great and unique community? More development in any community equates to an increase in property values and an increase in property tax revenues, which we will see a lot of once the TIFS mature. BTW, to the person who dreams of raising crops in Evanston - uh...Evanston is not a farm community.

Right? No, wrong!!

Dear Mr. Anonymous. Some comments. First of all, since you are hiding your identity, how do we know you are not part of the developer's team trying to sway opinion?

The TIF's are a joke. Except for one or two, they are not bringing in the tax relief that they were supposed to bring in. They certainly do not help the schools. The supposed TIF from the tower, by the time it could be collected will be some five or six years hence. That NPV is not anything to boast about.

What about the real estate market? Ask any realtor how many condo units are on the market.

The TIF situation is not helped when your world class university, which not only does not pay taxes, takes a major component of a downtown TIF and makes it tax exempt.

All of this marvelous development has not helped the property tax situation. How does one judge a Council and administration acumen, when they "overlook" a $140 million budget trifle and suffer from DMS (Deferred Maintenance Syndrome)that has allowed major public structures to decay?

Why are we spending consultant money on a new downtown zoning plan when a major project is exempted by a fictitious "pipeline" that eviscerates downtown planning? What went on in that closed Council meeting, which is the same date that the developers received their financing? Is that financing still there, given the market?

New and different is not necessarily better. Accuse us of being NIMBY, but at least Sanchez and I do not hide under the cloak of anonymity.

Growth is good

In response to Vito, I assure you I am not part of any developer's team, and I have never developed anything but a headache (usually caused by analyzing my tax bills). I am in the real estate business, and as I mentioned, my family and I live in Evanston. Also, I choose to remain anonymous becaue I can. What I write is more important than who I am. But if you have to associate a name to my rants you can call me ... Anonymous Al. You should know that although I don't agree with everything you say, I admire and respect you, Mr. Sanchez and all the others who faithfully participate at our local council and plan commission meetings. We need more of that kind of spirit from those who live and pay taxes here. As for the TIFS, once they mature our taxing bodies will get more money. TIFS have both positive and negatives and are probably overused and misused in some communities. Sure, taxpayers and taxing bodies are strained for a time during the TIF period but the idea of a TIF is to give incentive to investors and developers to develop an area in a community and increase it's property tax base. I think it's clear that is happening in Evanston and it's downtown area. Although the real estate market as a whole is declining, the market in Evanston has fared OK with some rough patches here and there. Another positive indicator of the Evanston market is that there are developers wishing to build in this current real estate market. And yes, they do get incentives through the TIFS but they are still putting their own money on the line. That says a lot for the Evanston market - unique unlike any other in the Chicagoland area. Aside from that, what Northwestern does is a totally different issue - (I strongly believe NU should pay more of its share and it was a slap in the face when it purchased an office building in the downtown district 2 years ago without notifying the public as it promised in a lawsuit settlement with the city). What NU pays to the city or should pay and what the TIFS do for developers and the public are two wholly separate issues in terms of growth. It is extremely important for everyone to pay attention to what kind of deals the city offers to developers, how the TIF money is used and the decisions made on the proposed developments. That doesn't mean Evanstonians should fold the tent and say no more development. If that were the case, then yes, the TIFS would be fruitless and a waste of time and energy. The highrises are already here. Developers want to build more because they know the market will bear it. The TIFS are in place. I say let's plan the process and participate in a reasonably positive way to guide the growth.
Anonymous Al

Growth

I am not against growth, or necessarily for the status quo, and as an engineer I am certainly aware of constant change.

What I am against, and here I agree with Victoria, is growth for growth's sake. Growth should be controlled and with a long term goal in mind. The haphazard PUD inspired growth has had very little merit. The revision of the zoning code would have been a good first step, but the Council, by use of the fictitious pipeline to exclude the Tower is inane.

Worse yet, despite the numerous charettes, the consultants seem to have a deaf ear for what citizens said they wanted, and have made them a charade by greasing in the Tower. It seems premeditated.

Since these developments take time, and cause considerable turmoil as they are being built, and given the uncertain nature of the real estate market, it would seem prudent to take a breather. The Sienna situation only reinforces that.

Perhaps FOCUS thinks it is immune because of the high end demographic it purports to satisfy. Don't bet on it.

As someone in the real estate market, can you be so naive as to assume that developers use only their money? It is all based on leverage (other peoples' money)and to flip as soon as possible.

Given the financial fiasco that appears to be looming with City finances, there is even less willingness to trust their expertise. Perhaps once the tax situation finally rears its ugly face, new residents may not be so eager.

Lets not confuse development with lower taxes!

I am not too impressed with the city management of the TIFs it appears to me the city is now using them to fund non TIf activities - and paying consultants to claim its OK - they recently used them to pay for extra police in the downtown - I also believe TIF funds were being talk about for Evmark - I do not know if that happened.

I doubt anyone on the board was at the APW meeting the night they talked about the over run on the sherman ave garage - they covered that up claiming that it was construction material costs issue - 3 million plus very interesting - recent the auditors even made mention of this at the council - what I found interesting I think on this site - Bill stated the developers paid the 7 million dollars for parking - in the garage - as I recall this project was over 40 million - clearly we did not recover much - and now on the new high raise if appears they want to use some of the parking we taxpayers paid the bill for.

I am not against development or the change to the downtown that has occurred - but I do not as a taxpayer like funding private developers making alot of money using my tax dollars and in the end paying the bills - In my opinion the city would not want to do a really audit of the cost of all this development since clearly it would show - we taxpayers will not get a return on our dollars invested!

The skyscraper is a very big issue but it may be clouding the real issue that is the taxpayers may have been sold a bill of goods on the costs to benifits of the development in regards to taxes!

Ignore Anonymous Comments

Yes, Vito, I am with you, I think these anonymous posts are done by either developers or people paid by developers. We are against the high-rises precisely because Evanston is unique and we want to preserve it! As for my property values, yes they will increase (although not lately) because we are the first north shore community, NOT because of the high-rises.

I suggest that anonymous posts not be allowed.

Ignorance is bliss?

Oh will you stop being so petty and paranoid. Do you really envision these boogey men to be trolling websites to pump up their image? Is it so hard to believe that a lengthy and competent letter could be written by an actual human instead of some devil-developer? Besides, everyone knows developers can't write in plain English; you would recognize them from the shill in their voice.
For the record, I am not the original AI that offends you so greatly, nor do I know anyone who it participating in this discussion.

What offends me is underneath the loud NIMBY attitude I hear is a cry of exclusion. Why can't more people move to Evanston? What is it about the people that would buy these condos that makes them exempt from the Evanstonian diversity umbrella? The city is still below its past population highs, how do you know they won't all fit? What sort of criminal behavior do high-rise dwellers commit that make them so suspect? I don't mean to project, but it sounds an awful lot like, "I got mine and all the rest of you can take a hike!"

As to the core of your argument here; not surprisingly, I disagree. Evanston is unique precisely because of its urban and suburban mix: it has the (robber Barron) university, key public transportation access, a public lakefront, and a dense commercial downtown that includes, yes, high-rises.
If Glencoe had all of these things, then the North boarder of Chicago would be Tower Road instead of Howard. Evanston stands as its own City - capital 'C'. If it did not, it would be just some other small town or neighborhood gobbled up by Chicago long ago, or as an insignificant bump on the way to whichever northshore burg stepped up.

Another thing that I believe you or your anti-high-rise teammate Vito brought up was the push for new construction now. Seeing as a 50-story building does not just make itself overnight; the time it will take to continue to win approval, advance and develop the design, produce the financing, execute the contracts, secure the bids, demolish the site, dig the foundations, and finally build and occupy the structure will be about 3 years. This would place all the new condos on a market just as it wakes from this current funk. You see, Unlike the city council, some developers plan ahead for the future.

Speaking of Vito, how do I know you and he are not the same individual just trying to pump up the appearance of a like-minded crowd on this message board? What's in a name after all?

Blissfull ignorance

Some comments Mr. Harris (unverified). I do not know how long you have been in Evanston, but I have been here as a student at NU and then as a homeowner since 1965. BTW there is only one of me, the City Council and NU breathe a sigh of relief at that.

NIMBY is a fascinating phrase, sort of like limousine liberal or drive-by diversity. I live in the Dewey area and we have had to fight for our community, now one of the more desirable areas in Evanston, and that fight has been mostly against the City and D65. We won, and we want to keep what we have won, which is real community.

Despite all the brand new developments and a "thriving, bustling" downtown, our taxes keep going up. Think what those increasing taxes and property values do to people on the West side. And seniors.

Talk about NIMBY.

Developers plan ahead for their futures. A quick build and then flip, and off to another development. Hey, that is how they make their money. I just want them to go through a few more hoops so that "future" is shared by others with real benefits for us and not just them.

I am glad you have faith in the real estate market. You ought to talk and cheer up Sienna developers. They seem to behave as if the bloom is off the condo market.

Now the Tower -- or EMF (Extended Middle Finger) -- will bring true diversity to this town. Given the prices they plan to charge, I assume they are after an upper middle class or higher demographic. DINKS or retired who will want to partake of the bustling downtown and proximity to transportation, allowing them to be oh so green.

Oh yes, taxes will be flowing in three years. What if it takes longer. Klutznick had a veritable Block 37 there until he got further funding and had to share it with some money people. What if it takes five years? then that TIF money will flow much later and for less time. Why worry about NPV for our supposed benfits.

Oh yes, change, dynamic change. Out with the old and in with the new and latest. I suppose Venice and Florence are examples of what to avoid. Just think how those old towns would be livened up by some nice tall new towers and all those bustling new condo owners. Venice, phew -- they need TIFs for a new sewer system!

Hey, what about a casino downtown! Or by the lake front. Boy, would we get developers.

We could be another Rosemont!!!

Wanted: an anonymous person seeking recognition

Mr. Sanchez - you're logic is since I remain anonymous I must be a developer or PAID by a developer. Uh huh, don't flatter yourself, big guy. That's right, developers crank up this big PR machine everytime they want the city to approve a project or a downtown master plan so they PAY people to write comments on this site. Just curious, what do you think they paid me? What are my rants and ravings worth? Your argument against growth is so weak that you attack the consultants and the OPEN process of the plan commission, and now, you want everyone to ignore anonymous posts with an opposing view. You would think a professor at Loyola such as yourself would be open to hearing opposing points of view regardless of who they are or not. Sanchez, if I gave you my name, what would you do? Pay attention to my comments? Who cares!
Anonymous Al

Unlawful Meeting between Council and Developers

The next hearing on the Tower/Skyscraper is WEDNESDAY, NOV. 14 at 7:00 at the Civic Center. Since this will be the 4th session of the hearing, it may likely go to a vote.

The following point has not yet been raised.

The developers met in closed session with Council last March. The Office of the Illinois Attorney General has now ruled TWICE that this meeting was unlawful because it violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act. The A.G. recommended that Coucil made public the minutes of the closed-door session it held with developers in violation of Illinois law.

It seems to me that the City is heading down the path of being sued with respect to this unlawful meeting. According to a story in the Evanston Review on Thursday, the original complainant, Robert Atkins, filed a FOIA request last week asking for the minutes of this unlawful closed meeting.

There are two ways in which the A.G.'s "ruling" can be enforced: either a private citizen or the State's Attorney of Cook County can bring a lawsuit against the City to enforce the A.G.'s ruling. If successful, a judge would order Council to release the minutes of this session.

My view is that the more Council delays and obstructs the release of these minutes, the more likely it is that the City will be sued. I believe the Plan Commission should think long and hard before voting to recommend the Tower to Council since the development of the Fountain Square Block (site of the Tower) was the subject of the unlawful closed session Council held with developers.

The Plan Commission would be well-served to halt all proceedings with respect to the Tower/Skyscraper until after the release of the minutes of the unlawful closed session between developers and Council last March. Public confidence in City governance has been eroded to the extent that immediate restorative action is called for. To the extent that Plan Commission votes to recommend the Tower/Skyscraper to Council, public confidence will be further eroded and the prospect of a lawsuit against the City will be increased.

keep it coming

I, too, remain anonymous because enbracing change seems to be highly unpopular here. Yet I suspect that many people who have paid top dollar to live in Evanston within the past 10 years have done so because of the growth. I remember visiting family in Evanston 20 years ago when downtown was dead. Nothing. No shopping, no restaurants, nothing. Seriously, the only time I remember my family coming downtown was for the parking garage "garage sale" ... remember that? In my opinion, keep it coming. New condos mean new businesses ... shopping, retail, tax dollars. Bring it on.