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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