Plan panel votes down Emerson downzoning

Evanston's Plan Commission has voted 4-1 to reject changes that would have downzoned properties in a four-block triangle north of Emerson Street just west of downtown.

The change would have reduced the basic height limit in the area from five to three-and-a-half stories.


Victoria Kathrein.

At Wednesday night's meeting, Victoria Kathrein, who now owns seven adjoining properties at the northeast corner of Emerson Street and Jackson Avenue, said she and her late husband started acquiring those properties 20 years ago with the intent of eventually redeveloping them based on the current zoning -- which has been in place since 1993.

When she agreed to sell the properties to a developer, who announced plans in late 2018 to build 44 condominiums in two-five story buildings on the site, that triggered neighbors -- most of whom own single family homes in the 1900 block of Wesley Avenue -- to call for the downzoning.

They complained redevelopment would destroy the character of their neighborhood.

The downzoning advocates also pointed to a 2005 neighborhood plan that called for downzoning the area, but which had never been implemented.

The complaints from neighbors eventually scared the developer off.

One of the neighbors, Timothy Samuel of 1910 Wesley Ave., said at the Plan Commission hearing that he moved out of Chicago three years ago and didn't want to see his new neighborhood turn into Logan Square or Lincoln Park.

But Kathrein was joined in opposition to the change by owners of property on the west side of the 1900 block of Asbury Avenue, which also would have been affected by the zoning change.

Dan Lauer, speaking on behalf of John Cleary of Temp Capital Inc., which purchased the vacant lot at 1924 Asbury at a tax sale in 2018, said they've been discussing plans with city officials to build two four-story buildings on that lot and two adjacent properties which they have under contract to purchase.


The 1900 block of Asbury Avenue. (Google Maps)

The proposed buildings would each have eight or nine units, Lauer said. One building would be sold as condominiums, while the other would be rental apartments. He said they would follow city rules that call for providing two affordable units in the new development.

"The frame two-flats on the block are beyond their useful life," Lauer said, adding that with a gas station, a funeral home and other commercial uses on the block, it's not appropriate for single-family homes.

Michael Abdelsayed, who has owned the building at 1926 Asbury Ave. since 2005, said he also opposed downzoning Asbury, although he said he had no opinion about downzoning other sections of the neighborhood.

Plan Commisisoner George Halik said he didn't understand why the area was zoned R5 in the first place, but added that "downzoning is a very dangerous thing to do" and has led to lawsuits in Chicago and other cities.

He suggested that perhaps the properties on Asbury and those fronting Emerson could be left R5 while the remainder of the area was downzoned.

He also suggested that any rezoning should be done in the context of looking at zoning comprehensively across the city.

Commissioner Jennifer Draper said part of the nature of Evanston is its mix of different housing types and suggested that often apartments can be more affordable than single family homes.

The Plan Commission's recommendation now will go to the City Council, which makes the final decision on proposed zoning changes.

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