Downtown map
Downtown map

Plan Commission Chairman James Woods says he wants to “take a stab at” coming up with a new map defining the transition between Evanston’s downtown core and the surrounding largely residential areas.

At a Downtown Plan Committee meeting Thursday, commissioners seemed to conclude that they need two transitional zones rather than the single one shown on the proposed map they’ve been working with.

  • One, facing the downtown core, would encourage the type of mixed use developments that dominate the core, but with lower building height limits.
  • A second, facing residential neighborhoods, would eliminate the mixed use component — permitting only residential uses, but with height limits still greater than what would be permitted in the surrounding residential zones.

Given the varied uses just beyond the downtown boundary — which include both low and high density residential zones, office, business and university uses, it’s not clear how idealized the transition can be made to be.

Ten different zoning categories are now used downtown, and Plan Commissioners say they hope to be able to substantially reduce that number. The proposed map they have been working with provided the potential to have just three downtown zones — core, traditional and transitional.

Downtown map

The draft downtown map that now faces some revision.

Commissioner Stuart Opdycke said he’d also like to see all height allowances removed “so we’re not looking at skyscrapers” in the transitional areas.  The height allowances are incentives added to the zoning code to encourage certain building features, like the inclusion of enclosed parking.

With residents who led the opposition to the 1515 Chicago Ave. high-rise sitting in the audience, much of the attention at Thursday’s meeting focused on the transition at the east edge of downtown, between Chicago and Hinman Avenues.

Properties on the east side of Chicago Avenue, the commissioners appeared to conclude, should match the mixed-use nature of the buildings on the west side of that street. But properties on the west side of Hinman, they suggested, should should be purely residential.

That distinction runs up against the reality of existing mixed uses at the intersection of Hinman Avenue and Davis Street. But at least the alley between Chicago and Hinman provides a demarcation line for two possible transition zones.

On other transition blocks, on the south edge between Grove and Lake Streets, for example, there are no parallel alleys to use to mark a boundary.

The next Downtown Plan Committee meeting is scheduled for 8 a.m. on Friday, April 20.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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