More than 150 people crowded into the Parasol Room at the Civic Center Thursday night to share their ideas for a new comprehensive plan for downtown Evanston.

They gathered around more than a dozen tables for over an hour to hash out ideas and then reported back to the full group.

Stuart Opdycke, a Plan Commission member, said that at his table “All agree that something has to be done with Fountain Square, that it’s a mess currently.” But one solution — “tearing down the Fountain Square building and putting green space in its place” — didn’t win unanimous support.

Jeff Smith, president of the Central Street Neighbors Association, said people at his table “don’t want Evanston to become like a mini-Chicago” and want clear-cut limits on what’s allowed under zoning rules. He said people believe previous plans for downtown have been abandoned.

Valerie Kretchmer, a resident and planning consultant, said at her table people thought the low-rise traditional areas identified in draft planning documents should be extended to cover the full length of Davis Street and of Sherman Avenue, and that the mid-rise transitional areas should be expanded as well.

Vicky Jacobson, an Evanston resident for just 10 months, said some people at her table worried that new residential development “favors the ultra-wealthy” and wanted more middle and low income housing, while others stressed a need for more units that would appeal to families.

Jeanne Lindwall, who helped prepare the last downtown plan 18 years ago, said that at her table people praised the diversity of downtown residents, from young professionals to empty nesters and noted that downtown’s office market has diversifed as well, with more entrepreneurs and small businesses and fewer large office tenants.

Tina Paden, who said her family has lived in Evanston for 160 years, said at her table the big concern was buildings that are too big and that developers should have to pick up the tab for infrastructure improvements needed to service their projects.

Participants in the session included residents from many parts of the city plus a sprinkling of developers, downtown property owners and merchants.

The downtown planning continues with two community meetings at 7 p.m. on July 12 at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center and the Levy Senior Center, followed by a week-long downtown design charrette the week of July 16.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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