Evanston’s Plan Commission tonight is scheduled to begin considering a possible downzoning of Chicago Avenue from just north of Lee Street to South Boulevard.

The commission, acting on requests from Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, is to consider changes to the C1a zoning district, which was last revised in 2000.

A portion of the frontage in the area along the west side of Chicago Avenue isn’t available for development, because it’s occupied by the CTA Purple Line right of way.

Of what’s left, just over half has been rebuilt with new residential and mixed use developments over the past 20 years.

Another 20 percent is occupied by commercial uses that have been rebuilt or substantially remodeled this decade.

That leaves just under 30 percent of the available frontage that might plausibly be redeveloped in the reasonably near future.

Downzoning that land could adversely impact the city’s ability to generate new housing construction — and the funds contributed by developers to provide new affordable housing units.

It also may clash with the goals of the city’s new transit-oriented development concepts — which encourage more dense development, with reduced parking requirements, near mass transit stations.

Older, low-rise buildings on the west side of Chicago Avenue north of Main Street. (Google Maps image)

Its not clear what the prospects are for major new projects on this section of Chicago Avenue. While there are at least three sites that appear to be large enough, tax records indicate each is split into three to seven different parcels with just as many owners.

And so far no new plans for new development along the street have been publicly revealed.

A staff report to the Plan Commission suggests changes could involve reducing height limits and increasing required setbacks or adding the area to one of the lower-density zones that adjoin the Chicago area strip.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. C1a

    Dear Bill,

    I do wish you had contacted me before you wrote your article and incorrectly stated my purpose in asking the Plan Commission to review the C1a zoning designation. C1a produces dense, blocky buildings, with little setback.  My request very clearly stated that I do not want the City to create any more C1a zoning districts but to develop a new type of district that permits commercial use on the ground floor and residential use on the upper floors. The new district would address the flaws in the current C1a designation.  

    I never suggested or stated that I wanted to downzone Chicago Ave. or change the current C1a districts.

    Best regards,

    Melissa Wynne

    1. Setbacks

      Hi Melissa,

      Requiring greater setbacks is a form of downzoning, unless you’re proposing greater height in exchange.

      — Bill

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