Where’s downtown? The Evanston Plan Commission’s downtown plan committee will try to answer that question when it meets March 15. The answer will matter as the commission moves on to develop new rules about what should be built in the most intensely developed section of the city.
The Evanston Plan Commission’s downtown plan committee will try to answer that question when it meets March 15.
The answer will matter as the commission moves on to develop new rules about what should be built in the most intensely developed section of the city.
For a downtown study two years ago, city planners decided downtown is the area bounded by Emerson Street, Elgin Road and Clark Street on the north, Hinman Avenue on the east, Lake Street on the south and Asbury Avenue on the west.
But David Galloway, a plan commission associate member, says when members of Design Evanston did a streetscape survey recently they concluded that some areas inside, but near the edges of that boundary don’t look like downtown, while other areas that are outside the line do seem to qualify for inclusion.
Diane Williams, executive director of EvMark, the marketing association for downtown, said the boundaries will also be important in considering renewal soon of the special downtown tax district that funds EvMark’s programs.
Dennis Marino, assistant director of the city’s planning division, told the committee at its meeting Wednesday that while the city’s comprehensive plans for several decades have set the west boundary at Asbury, people have frequently argued that the line should be drawn a block east, at Ridge Avenue.
Community Development Director James Wolinski said the committee should consider what parts of downtown should stay the same, â€œbecause right now it appears that all of downtown is up for grabs as developers look at it.â€
â€œDavis Street west of the tracks is going to be under assault,â€ Mr. Wolinski said, â€œalthough I probably shouldn’t call it that.â€
â€œWe need redevelopment, but need to decide how much is enough. Perhaps we should have some landmark districts downtown that should remain as is,â€ he added.
â€œI’m not sure some of those ‘landmarks’ are going to stand up much longer,â€ Plan Commissioner Larry Widmayer said, â€œAre we talking about leaving them untouched â€“ or limiting the redevelopment height?â€
Mr. Galloway suggested involving the Preservation Commission in an evaluation of downtown buildings. â€œRegardless of whether we end up making it a landmark, they can rate the architectural integrity of a building.â€
Ms. Williams said some buildings downtown, including the Hahn Building, which faces both Sherman and Orrington Avenues south of Church Street, already are landmarks.
Mr. Galloway said Davis Street west of the tracks now provides a â€œvery beneficial, decompressive quality as you move toward the serene residential area along Ridge and Asbury.â€
Rental rates for retail space on that part of Davis also are lower, Mr. Widmayer said, falling from $40 per square foot in the center of downtown to $20 per square foot on that part of Davis.
â€œThat’s very significant in attracting small, local retailers,â€ he added.
Mr. Wolinski said it now seems â€œdevelopers are driving the development as opposed to the city saying what it wants to see.â€
He said the Fountain Square block may be the next area in play, and that developer Tom Roszak â€œis coming to see me about that block, and I’m sure he has plans for a lot of density there.â€
Committee members also said they hope to figure out ways to make it more appealing to walk around downtown by providing more public art and improving lighting, street furniture, landscaping and signage.