Ideas in the new draft downtown plan for increasing open space and addressing parking and traffic issues drew praise mixed with some criticism and suggestions at Tuesday’s Plan Commission hearing.

Open space

Tim Angell of 1432 Wesley Ave., who works as the community development director for Des Plaines, said the new plan “does a great job” of bringing Fountain Square back to prominence.

He also said the plan “captures really well” the importance of pocket parks to the city. “They need a lot of help now, and the plan gives good direction on ways to spruce them up,” he said.

Ann Dienner of 1034 Sheridan Road also praised the park plans but said she was concerned about park maintenance. It would be a shame if they “turn into tatty, ratty, messy locations,” she said, adding that local gardening groups might be enlisted to maintain them or help pay the maintenance costs.

Planning consultant John LaMotte said that the plan envisions as part of its bonus system that developers of new downtown buildings would put up at least some of the funds for building and maintaining the new and upgraded parks.

The plan calls for widening some downtown sidewalks, an idea that appealed to Lucia Miller of 418 Church St., who said all sidewalks should be at least wide enough for three people to walk side-by-side.

Plan Commissioner Larry Widmayer said that the plan’s idea for making Bookman’s Alley more attractive for shoppers could be expanded to encourage retail uses in some other alleys, especially in the block bounded by Sherman, Chicago, Grove and Davis.

He said there are already a couple of small, service-oriented businesses in that alley and with very deep lots, he said, the alley could handle more retail uses.

Commission Chairman James Woods suggested that the plan’s proposal for creating a market space on the west side of Benson Avenue north of Church Street could be extended an additional block north.

Parking and traffic

Ann Head of 1107 Lake St., opposed suggestions in the plan that one parking lot near the YMCA should be turned into a park and another should be become a mixed-use development.

“People who go to the Y rely heavily on the parking lot across the street,” Head said, “If you take those away, people would have to walk several blocks to exercise.”

Valerie Kretchmer of 2707 Walnut Ave. said she was on the Plan Commission in the 1990s when the movie theater project was being considered. “Remember all the uproar over anticipated movie theater traffic?” she said. “I think we realize now that street is wider than it needs to be. The traffic has not materialized. So I’m in agreement with the new plan’s call to narrow Maple Avenue and widen the sidewalks.”

Kretchmer also suggested that an extra benefit of the plan’s suggestion to close Clark Street between Sherman and Orrington to expand Oldberg Park would be to make what is now a very confusing intersection at Clark and Sherman easier for drivers to navigate.

Jeanne Lindwall of 625 Library Place, an urban planner who once worked for the city, suggested that with the city’s current surplus of downtown garage parking, it might consider reducing or eliminating on-site parking requirements for new office and commercial uses downtown, especially in the low-rise traditional districts.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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4 Comments

  1. Irony?
    “People who go to the Y rely heavily on the parking lot across the street,” Head said, “If you take those away, people would have to walk several blocks to exercise.”

    Was this meant ironically? God forbid if you had to “walk to exercise”!

  2. Keep Evanston as it is – Stop the Downtown Plan and Skyscraper
    I sat through 4 hours of consultant presentation and resident comments during the Nov. 6 Plan Commission hearing on downtown development 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) 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. This new plan is going to change our city dramatically, residents must get involved in the process!

  3. Park at Grove & Maple
    The parking lot across from the Y would be a wonderful place for a park or public square. With all the new construction already completed downtown, and yet another big condo building already being constructed on Maple just north of Grove, the area is already in danger of becoming too dense. Yet another big building there would be awful but a park would add to the quality and feel of downtown life. Enough with all the new Condos already!

    1. Proposed Park – Private Property
      The open space added by the consultants is a great idea with a few flaws. You are right, that area is in need of more open space. However, the property is privately owned by the King Home, who has generously worked out an agreement with the YMCA to allow some much needed parking (only on half the lot). Some jokes were made last week about people having to walk too far to exercise. The Y provides so much more than just “exercise” to families from all over Evanston and both surface lots are heavily used. Having been there (with three little kids in tow), I can understand the need to have parking within close proximity, frankly there is not enough. The 220 feet of luxury that is coming north of Grove will indeed be too dense and cause more havoc than that are was designed for. Surprise! Our current zoning and plan for Evanston do not allow for that building. However, with PUD’s, residents’ did have more input, for whatever that is worth.
      Mimi Peterson

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