Evanston’s Plan Commission voted Wednesday to reject a proposed zoning text amendment that could have removed an obstacle to construction of an office building on what’s now the parking lot adjacent to the downtown library.

The proposal, from Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, would have made office buildings a permitted special use in R5 and R6 residential zones that are adjacent properties in downtown D2 or D3 zoning districts.

The proposed text amendment would affect the parcels outlined in red on this map.

Several residents who’ve long opposed the library lot development spoke against the proposed zoning change, which would have the effect of reducing the number of aldermanic votes require to approve the project from seven to six.

Commissioner Andrew Pigozzi criticized the proposal as “a piecemeal way of looking at a very broad topic that needs a lot of study and further discussion,” a sentiment shared by other members of the commission.

Commissioner Peter Isaac said it appeared that even if the change were approved, other restrictions in the residential districts would limit an office building at the 1714-1720 Chicago Ave. site to at most half the size of what’s been proposed.

Commissioner Jennifer Draper said she’s a fan of increasing mixed-use development. “I think that can be beneficial in a lot more neighborhoods,” she said, “But I think this is probably not the right way to do it. This looks like spot zoning.”

Several commissioners said it may be time for the city to revisit its comprehensive plan, last revised in 2000, and its downtown plan, last updated in 2009.

City staff have shied away from heading down that path in recent years, given the substantial cost in staff time and consultants to prepare new plans, and the reality that, while the City Council adopted the downtown plan, it has never been able to agree on zoning changes designed to implement it.

The proposal from Fiske now goes to the City Council for final action.

The Plan Commission Wednesday also recommended against another proposal from Fiske. That one would would have required special use approval for residential care homes.

The commissioners voiced fears that the change would violate federal legal protections for the disabled and said they didn’t believe that the siting of such facilities in Evanston under existing rules had created problems.

Commissioner Isaac said testimony at the Zoning Subcomittee of the Plan Commission indicated that 50 studies of the impact of residential care homes had shown that they do not adversely affect property values.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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