Three members of Evanston’s Plan Commission say they’re receptive to plans for a 49-story tower on the Fountain Square block downtown, but each voiced some concerns about it.

Plan Commission Chairman James Woods said after this morning’s Downtown Plan Committee meeting that because the tower would occupy only a small portion of the block, the average height on the block after the tower is built would be similar to that of other recent downtown developments.

He said several recent projects, including Sherman Plaza, Winthrop Club and 1890 Maple Ave. all have an average height of a bit under 10 stories.

But to be considered for that average-height treatment, Mr. Woods said, Focus Development and Klutznick-Fisher Development Co., would need to provide the funding for the redevelopment of the whole block, including Fountain Square itself.

Otherwise, he said, the height would be unjustified.

So far the developers have said the southern part of the project should be funded by the city through incremental property tax revenue the tower project would provide.

Considering just the 708 Church St. property the developers control, the average height of the project would be about 20 stories. Adding in the Hahn Building at midblock and the expanded plaza proposed for the site of the Fountain Square Building, neither of which the developers now control, would reduce the average height on the entire block to about 13 stories.

Dave Galloway, a Plan Commission member and chairman of Design Evanston, says he’s “reservedly excited” about the proposed 523-foot condo tower.

He said the Fountain Square block is the logical site for downtown’s tallest building, and that he is pleased the proposal would preserve the landmark Hahn Building and calls for replacing the Fountain Square Building with an enlarged plaza.

“I’m not worried about a tall building on that site,” he said, although he said he believes the city has recently permitted too much height in some projects approved for the edges of downtown.

“Some people are against height anywhere,” he said, “but that’s foolish.”

He also indicated he’s not sympathetic to complaints from high-rise dwellers that a new building would block their views.

Plan Commissioner Larry Widmayer, a commercial real estate agent, said he has no problem with the height, but that he’s very concerned about the loss of the roughly 50,000 square feet of Class B commercial office space now provided by the 708 Church St. building and the Fountain Square Building.

He said that commercial space is becoming very tight downtown now — that even space in the Research Park area that was unrentable a few years ago is now attracting tenants.

Mr. Galloway added, “To have an active and successful city, you need to have places for people to work as well

as residences and entertainment and shopping.”

He said the cost of new construction makes it difficult to build new office space and rent it at Class B rates

downtown, and it’s not clear whether existing tenants could afford Class A rents.

He said he also wants to see the results of traffic studies and shadow studies to know more about the possible impact of the building on its neighbors.

Mr. Woods and Mr. Widmayer also disputed the developers’ claim that a high water table downtown makes it impractical to place any of the project’s parking underground. They noted that the 1603 Orrington Ave. development built nearly 40 years ago just across the street has underground parking and that the recently rejected proposal for 1515 Chicago Ave. would have included parking underground.

The Plan Commission is expected to begin its review of the project in June. It will make a recommendation about the tower to the City Council, which has the final say on whether the project will be approved.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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