Twenty months after approving the West Evanston Master Plan, the City Council Monday gave preliminary approval to zoning rules that would implement it.

The approval came after an exhaustive series of meetings with owners of businesses affected by the zoning changes and with a small group of neighbors living near the properties.

In the end, the business owners seemed to be at least generally reassured that despite rezoning of their properties for potential future residential use, special provisions had been included that would allow them to maintain their operations and, within some limits, expand their businesses or sell the property for similar commercial uses.

The group of nearby residents, however, were still voicing a variety of objections as the rezoning came up for a vote.

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, said many concerns were addressed in a meeting he attended with city staff and the residents last week.

But Betty Ester, who lives at 2114 Darrow Ave., about two blocks from the area being rezoned, said residents want the maximum height permitted reduced from over 50 feet to 42 feet.

She also claimed that the rezoning could lead to displacement of tenants from several residential properties along Green Bay Road.

But Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said the rezoning would not lead to displacement and that, with or without the zoning change, the owner of the buildings could decide to sell the properties or convert them to another use.

Jean-Baptiste said, “nobody’s trying to move anybody out of the community. There’s no displacement going on.”

Roberta Hudson, who lives at 1941 Dewey Ave., just across an alley from property being rezoned, said the neighborhood is already too congested and that adding new housing there, on what now is vacant industrial land, is inappropriate.

“The same old story is being carried out on the west side of Evanston,” Hudson said, “Take advantage of the disadvantaged and hope nobody will notice.” She said the new zoning favors special interests at the expense of long-time residents of the area.

Priscilla Giles, who lives at 1829 Ashland Ave., a half block from property being rezoned, said the proposed new housing would be very dense “and nothing like the housing that already exists in the neighborhood.”

Jean-Baptiste disputed claims by the opponents that new housing and infrastructure improvements would force out residents by raising property values.

Noting recent declines in the real estate market, Jean-Baptiste said, “almost the entire city of Evanston, at least on the west side, has become affordable.”

“Houses that sold for $300,000 a couple of years ago now are on the market for $150,000,” he said.

The aldermen voted unanimously to introduce the zoning text and map amendments. The measures require another vote for final adoption at the council’s next regular meeting on Jan. 26.

The changes affect nearly 100 parcels of land along the former Mayfair rail corridor running from Simpson Street and Green Bay Road southwesterly to Greenwood Street west of Dodge Avenue.

Details of the zoning changes are available on the city website.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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