Evanston’s Plan Commission tonight is scheduled to consider a request to remove zoning restrictions imposed more than a decade ago that effectively block redevelopment of a section of abandoned railroad right of way.

The land that would be rezoned consists of three parcels in an area of the 5th Ward bounded by Simpson and Foster streets and Ashland Avenue and Green Bay Road on which a developer hopes to build townhomes.

The parcels represent a portion of the wye that connected the former Mayfair rail line with the mainline commuter rail tracks just east of Green Bay Road.

The bold red outline indicates the area being considered for the zoning change.

The 2007 West Evanston Master Plan called for creating a new street grid where it had been interrupted by the railroad — extending Jackson Avenue north to Simpson and establishing a new east-west street to connect Wesley Avenue with Jackson.

An illustration from the 2007 plan showing extensive redevelopment and the new street grid.

The plan, Community Development Director Johanna Leonard says in a memo to the Commission, was adopted at the peak of the real estate market when large-scale development projects seemed feasible. In 2009, shortly after the market crashed, the city added the plan’s requirements to the zoning code as part of a West Evanston Overlay District.

But the changes to the street grid envisioned by the plan “can only be accomplished if many separate properties are redeveloped at the same time,” Leonard’s memo says. And that would have to include the self-storage business at the southwest corner of Green Bay and Simpson — which is not currently for sale.

The developer, John Cleary of Chicago-based TEMP Capital Inc., has submitted a preliminary site plan for the property, showing how it might be developed if the overlay district zoning restrictions were removed.

The preliminary site plan.

It shows a total of 16 townhomes on the curving section of the property affected by the overlay district and an additional 12-unit apartment building on two adjoining parcels Cleary controls that aren’t affected by the overlay district restrictions.

A view into the site from Green Bay Road, showing the abandoned railroad viaduct abutment and the edge of the Public Storage building just north of the property. (Google Maps)

If the proposed zoning change is ultimately approved by the City Council, the developer’s townhouse proposal would still require review under the city’s planned development approval process.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Hidden Opportunty

    This former railway extends from this Y-shaped connection to current Metra tracks southwest 7 miles to Lawrence and I-94.  Try viewing on Google Maps with satellite view and this old scar on the landscape pops out.  Lincolnwood has created a paved trail on their 1-mile section of the vacant rail bed and Chicago is negotiating with Union Pacific, the owner of the land, for their portion to turn this informal dirt and rock path into a formal biking and walking trail.  Imagine if Evanston converted our 2 1/3 mile section into a trail as well.  One could travel off road from ETHS to Haven/Northwestern area.  Picture an elevated trail bridge utilizing those concrete viaducts with bikers and walkers bipassing traffic.  Travel southwest across the vacant train bridge over the channel to Linconwood Mall and beyond to the North Branch of Chicago River and Forest Preserve Trail.  This land could include a trail connecting the region and reducing car traffic and polution.  Something to consider before the city and railroad begin carving it up into slices.

    1. Obstacles

      Hi John,

      Most of the former railroad right of way in Evanston is now privately owned — and with a diverse set of owners — so the chances of turning it into a bike path are probably slim to none.

      — Bill

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