Design Evanston to envision parking lot's future

David Galloway

Evanston aldermen Monday night deferred a move to seek new proposals from developers for the city parking lot on Chicago Avenue downtown after Design Evanston volunteered to conduct a charette aimed at developing "appropriate development solutions" for the property.

David Galloway, vice president of the not-for-profit group of local design professionals, told aldermen he hoped the charette process -- which would be limited to professional members of the organization -- could be completed by the end of this month.

The zoning for the property currently would allow an eight story apartment building with up to four additional levels of parking.

The city has sought office development for the site, in hopes of bringing more customers to downtown businesses as well as getting several million dollars for the sale of the property.

But a city-imposed condition that the developer replace the existing 74 parking spaces on the site as well as provide parking for the new office tenants -- despite the city owning an underutilized parking garage across the street -- proved impossible for the chosen developer meet within the height and bulk limits aldermen were willing to consider.

And opposition from neighbors led to a stalemate in which there weren't enough Council votes available to reach the supermajority needed to approve a zoning change required for the office use.

Further complicating the issue is the presence of historically-significant low-rise buildings on either side of the property, although the site is within a few hundred feet of two of the city's tallest buildngs.

With some residents preferring to keep the surface parking lot rather than see anything built there, and others suggesting solutions unlikely to generate sufficient revenue to cover their costs -- like a women's history park atop an underground parking garage -- the Design Evanston members will face a challenging task trying to harmonize all the clashing goals.

It's also unclear whether they can come up with a concept that any developer would consider profitable enough to be worth paying for the privilege of going through Evanston's challenging development approval process to win the right to build.

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Comments

The Library Parking Lot

Your article repeats the spectre repeatedly advanced by Alderman Judy Fiske that "The zoning for the property currently would allow an eight story apartment building with up to four additional levels of parking."  In fact, in an R-6 zone,  an apartment building is limited to 85 feet or 8 stories (whichever is less) Ch. 6-8-8-8., or, if the project is a planned development, the height may be increased to a maximum of 97 feet. Ch. 6-8-1-10 (C)1.  The apartments and parking, together, must fit within those limits, and cannot be the 125 feet implied by your (and Alderman Fiske's) statements.  

Moreover, any planned development would be subject to review and public hearing before the Plan Commission; all variances sought would be subject to the the Zoning Code's standards and limits  for planned developments, including the requirement that the developer provide significant public benefits that would justify the variances and that the development be compatible with surrounding properties

In addition, any sale of city land would require a super-majority (6) votes of the City Council.

Most important, the City owns and has no obligation to sell the Library Parking Lot.  Council members hold the power to determine the appropriateness of use and/or design of any building proposed for this site. 

In sum, there is no basis for your statement  unless one assumes that a super-majority of Alderman Fiske's colleagues on the City Council would buy into such a proposal for 8 stories plus 4 floors of parking, in violation of Evanston’s zoning law's restrictions for R-6.

R6 planned development height

Hi Joan,

Why yes, it appears Alderman Fiske has been importing the planned development parking allowances allowed in downtown zones into a residential zone and I failed to double-check her reference. Thanks for pointing that out.

So the readers can follow the discussion, the basic building height in R6 is established in Section 6-8-8-8 of the city code at 85 feet.

The 12-foot height bonus for planned developments in residential zones is established in Section 6-8-1-10-C-1.

However Section 6-3-6-6 of the code allows the City Council to provide site development allowances in excess of the limits established in a zoning district, for example to exceed the height limit that would otherwise apply, if it makes a written finding of fact that the modification is essential to achieve the public benefits to be derived from the project.

And it takes just a two-thirds vote of aldermen to accomplish that -- the same vote required to approve the sale of city property.

So let's imagine that the aldermen still deemed it essential to recreate the 74 parking spaces now on the lot in the new building, and also wanted to provide all the on-site parking for building tenants that would typically be required in the code. Voila, several added floors of parking that could be justified as essential to achieving public benefits from the project.

But I suspect whether we're talking a nine-story or a twelve-story building, you're still opposed, no matter whether it's residential, commercial or industrial, right?

Perhaps you'd like to describe what you would like to see built there, if anything?

-- Bill