Evanston Plan Commission members seem divided in their views about the 49-story tower proposed for the Fountain Square block.

Some commissioners were sharply critical in comments during last week’s hearing on the project.

Commissioner Colleen Burrus said the base of the new building “looks like a fortress, a big parking garage with retail on the bottom. It’s not welcoming.”

By contrast, she said, the Sherman Plaza project, built across the street by the same developers, “encourages people to walk” on its site of the street.

And Commissioner Albert Hunter suggested the base should be redesigned to “open up” the Sherman Avenue and Church Street corner — providing a setback similar to that of the new Barnes & Noble storefront in Sherman Plaza.

But Commissioner David Galloway said a curved or angled corner on the proposed building “would be quite trite and not an effective urban design.”

He called the plan developers Tim Anderson and James Klutznick presented “architecturally appropriate” and “quite well done,” saying it would give pedestrians a better view of the retail space.

He praised the treatment of the garage area above the retail floors saying that, like the much older Orrington Hotel garage in the next block north on Sherman it “in effect looks like a normal building.”

But Commissioner Robin Schuldenfrei said the garage “gives the building a fortress-like look” and asked whether the developers could put the parking underground — an idea the developers rejected as too expensive.

Commission Chairman James Woods praised revisions the developers have made to their original designs and suggested further revisions to “get more architectural detail” into the east side of the building’s base.

Later, after a lengthy discussion led by Mr. Galloway of possible refinements to the architectural detailing of the building’s tower, Ms. Burrus said, “We’re losing sight of the overall issue. Does this building– whether a fabulous design or not — belong in downtown Evanston?”

That comment drew applause from audience members who oppose the project.

Commissioners Johanna Nyden and Stuart Opdycke asked questions during the session, but gave little indication of their overall views about the plan.

Residents opposed to the tower who spoke at the hearing claimed it would be too tall, that the developers aren’t offering sufficient public benefits and that it would displace established retail businesses and professional offices.

Residents supporting the project said it would help attract more young professionals to live downtown, provide new customers for businesses and strengthen the city’s economic base.

The commission will continue its hearing on the tower project at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 10.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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