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Squeeze play for development

Downtown Evanston has barely enough potential development sites to accommodate projected market demand over the next decade, assuming new zoning limits in the draft downtown plan are adopted.

That’s the conclusion of John LaMotte of the Lakota Group, a consultant for the city.

Downtown plan

Potential development sites are shown in yellow on this graphic from the draft downtown plan.

LaMotte says the consultants looked carefully at the number of sites "susceptible to change" across downtown’s 31 blocks and found 15 likely prospects.

He says that if fully developed those sites could accommodate perhaps 1,500 residential units, plus some office and retail space. The residential number is at the low end of the projection by the Goodman Williams Group, another city consulting firm, of the demand for downtown residential development over the next decade.

Many of the sites include multiple tax parcels under different ownership, which is likely to complicate efforts to see them fully developed.

For example, the plan envisions a new mixed-use retail and residential building running south along Oak Avenue from Church Street to the alley, and then another mixed use development just south of the alley.

As is typical of many of the sites identified for development, the land includes a surface parking lot, in this case one owned by the city.

But it also includes four other parcels, each with an existing building and each with a different owner.

Evanston architect Andrew Spatz, who bought the mid-block lot at 1629 Oak Ave. five years ago for $333,000, says he already has plans for a retail and residential condo development on the site that could be 15 stories tall, the new basic height limit proposed for the parcel under the draft downtown plan.

City parking requirements for the 50 by 100 foot parcel sharply limit what he can build there, Spatz says, and the city, he says, requires much more parking for office space than residential uses, so residential becomes the only viable option for his site.

Daniel Cheifetz, whose Enterprise Development Foundation has owned the two-story brick building on the corner at 1020 Church St. since 1999, said he was surprised to learn the property is shown in the city’s plan as a redevelopment site and that he hasn’t had any talks about redevelopment with neighboring property owners.

But Cheifetz said further downtown development makes sense, now that Evanston’s proven it can create a vibrant environment downtown.

He said he has doubts about the call in the plan for preserving the low-rise character of Davis Street west of the Metra tracks. "That seems a little arbitrary to me," he said. Over time, he suggested, the city will need to look to areas like Davis Street for future growth. But he said he applauds the city’s decision to take planning issues seriously and strive for balanced development.

The real estate consultants report estimated that there is enough market demand for new development to generate $11.5 to $15.4 million annually in new property tax revenue over the next decade. The city’s roughly 20 percent share of that would cover 7 to 9 percent of its current total property tax levy.

But LaMotte says that in looking for potential development sites it became clear that many properties are unlikely to be redeveloped any time soon. Those include churches and other institutional or public buildings, sites redeveloped recently and condo buildings where it would be difficult to achieve a consensus among owners for redevelopment.

Add to those the so-called "traditional" areas that city officials have said they want to keep low-rise, and the result is a chance that some of the goals for generating new tax revenue will not be met.

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