A proposal up for discussion by aldermen Monday night would expand the size of Evanston’s downtown area by about 15 percent, adding roughly 25 acres mostly north of Emerson Street.

The expansion would be focused on the area around and just south of the Foster Street CTA station.

A study of possible rezoning of the area was suggested by Aldeman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, on Feb. 22, as aldermen voted to reject plans for a 12-story rental apartment complex targeted to college students for a site on Emerson that would be included in the proposed north downtown study.

The city’s planning staff has prepared maps that show seven potential development sites within the north zone, compared to 12 such sites in all of the existing downtown area. The potential development sites are one or more contiguous parcels which are either vacant or under-developed or on which developers have indicated an interest in building.

At a 1st Ward meeting March 1, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the new planning process is needed and Fiske noted that existing zoning would let Northwestern University build an eight-story parking garage on the surface parking lot north of Engelhart Hall on Maple Avenue north of Emerson.

Regional planners have forecast that Evanston will add about 12,000 residents between 2010 and 2040, raising questions about how a landlocked community will handle such growth.

In a memo to alderman, Community Development Director Mark Muenzer said the north downtown area is similar to downtown in many respects, with a high percentage of “non-traditional family” households — roommates or others sharing a household — as well as a high percentage of car-free households and an increase in young adult residents.

Its location along the Purple Line, Muenzer suggests, makes at a natural spot to consider rezoning to permit higher-density, transit-oriented development although not as dense as what’s found in the core of downtown.

If aldermen give the go-ahead Monday, Muenzer proposes holding an information-gathering meeting followed by a planning charrette this spring as well as market research and an analysis of possible public funding options that could support redevelopment efforts.

He suggests staff would return to City Council with an update report late in July.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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