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New height caps eyed for downtown

The draft downtown plan unveiled at this morning’s Downtown Plan Committee meeting would permit a maximum height of 42 stories on Evanston’s Fountain Square block, seven stories less that the planned development now under review for the 708 Church St. site.

The draft master plan calls for replacing the current system of planned development site allowances, which under some circumstances could permit an unlimited building height, with a system of as-of-right height limits plus bonuses that developers could earn for providing specified public benefits up to a fixed ceiling for each zone.

Although the city’s consultants provided an elaborate PowerPoint presentation of the new scheme at the meeting, with three-dimensional renderings and zoning maps, the consultants and city officials refused to make printed or electronic copies of any of the documents available today.

In general the new map closely resembled one drafted during the downtown planning charrette this summer.

Charrette map

The charrette map

The proposal calls for three "Residential Downtown" zones at the edges of downtown. These in earlier documents were described as "transitional" zones.

  • RD1, applied to land along Orrington Avenue, Clark Street and Elgin Road where downtown meets the Northwestern University campus, would have a base height limit of 6 stories and a base floor area ratio of 2.75. With bonuses for public benefits limits could rise to 8 stories and a 4.0 FAR.
  • RD2, used on the east, south and west edges of downtown, would have a base height limit of 6 stories with an FAR of 3.0. Public benefit bonuses could raise the limits to 10 stories and a 5.0 FAR.
  • RD3, used on the south side of Emerson Street at the north edge of downtown, would have a base limit of 8 stories and a 3.5 FAR, which could rise to 15 stories and a 6.0 FAR with public benefits.

The draft plan also calls for a "Downtown Traditional" zone that would be applied to various parcels along Davis Street and Sherman Avenue south of Fountain Square, to a two-block stretch of Davis Street west of the Metra tracks and to most of the Sherman Avenue block north of Church Street. Those areas would have a base height limit of 3 stories with a maximum limit of 5 stories.

Finally, the plan calls for three sets of height limits for "Downtown Core" zones.

  • An east core area between Chicago and Orrington avenues north of Davis Street and a west core area along Church Street west of the Metra tracks would share a base height limit of 15 stories with a maximum limit of 18 stories.
  • A central core area east of the Metra tracks and west of Sherman Avenue from University Place to Davis Street would have a base height of 15 stories and a maximum height of 30 stories.
  • The Fountain Square block would have a base height limit of 25 stories with a maximum height limit of 42 stories.

The plan proposes creating the following system of bonuses by which developers could move toward the upper height limits.

  • Up to a 15 percent bonus for whole-building sustainability, defined as achieving LEED gold or platinum status.
  • Up to a 20 percent bonus for providing additional affordable housing on or off site, beyond the amount required by an existing city ordinance.
  • Up to a 20 percent bonus for landmark preservation efforts.
  • Up to a 10 percent bonus for providing public plazas.
  • Up to a 10 percent bonus for providing public parks or open space.
  • Up to a 10 percent bonus for providing public art.
  • Up to a 10 percent bonus for sidewalk widening.
  • Up to a 5 percent bonus for providing a green roof.
  • Up to a 25 percent bonus for providing underground parking and loading dock areas.
  • Up to a 15 percent bonus for providing above-grade parking concealed by habitable floor area.
  • Up to a 15 percent bonus for providing streetscape or alley improvements.
  • Up to a 10 percent bonus for providing day care services on site or nearby.

Not all of the bonuses would be available in all the downtown zones and the total of all bonuses would be capped at 100 percent of the available height allowance.

The plan also requires that upper floors of taller buildings be setback from the lot line. In the downtown core, the base of buildings up to the fourth floor would be required to cover 100 percent of the lot area. From five to 15 stories the building could only cover 65 percent of the lot area, only 45 percent coverage would be allowed from there to 24 stories and only 35 percent lot coverage would be allowed to the maximum limit of 42 stories.

Planning Director Dennis Marino said the draft plan documents will be available on the city’s website Monday.

The schedule of public meetings about the plan includes:

  • A joint meeting of the City Council’s Planning and Development Committee and the Plan Commission to hear a presentation of the plan from the consultants at 7:30 p.m. next Wednesday, Oct. 24, in the Parasol Room at the Civic Center.
  • Another Downtown Plan Committee meeting to discuss the plan at 8 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 25, in Room 2200 of the Civic Center.
  • A special Plan Commission public meeting to begin reviewing the plan at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 6, in the Parasol Room.

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