The City of Evanston’s schedule for developing a new comprehensive plan and zoning code means the documents won’t be ready for City Council adoption until after the 2025 council election.

The schedule, outlined by staff at Monday’s City Council meeting, calls for having a consultant to develop the plan on board by this August, with final City Council adoption anticipated in August 2025.

That, combined with the city’s shifting economic fortunes, may have a major impact on the outcome of the project.

An illustration of the issues involved can be seen in the development, starting in 2006, of the city’s current downtown plan.

A detail from the cover page of the 2009 downtown plan.

The process started in the midst of a housing boom — with city officials confident they could make major demands on developers hoping to launch construction projects downtown.

But the plan was finally adopted by City Council in February 2009 on a 6-3 vote in the midst of the housing bust following the subprime mortgage industry meltdown.

Then, after the April 2009 election — which saw the arrival of a new mayor and five new aldermen — the Council was unable to reach agreement on approving the zoning code changes that would actually have implemented the plan.

It took until 2013 for new development in the downtown area to finally resume.

So the plan has ended up being a source of unnecessary conflict around development projects ever since — with neighbors opposed to development insisting the tighter limits in the plan should be followed — while the actual rules in force were specified by the more permissive zoning code.

Now the city is embarking on the much more extensive comprehensive plan and zoning code revision for the entire city with the city’s economy still impaired by the lingering consequences of the pandemic.

Whether the issues the city faces will seem the same by the time the planning process is completed and whether the same council members will still be in office — well, we can only wait and see.

Related: City to launch massive zoning review (3/26/23)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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