Tower, downtown plan slip together

Folks who thought the Fountain Square tower project shouldn't be voted on until a new downtown plan was in place may be coming closer to getting their wish.

The Plan Commission Wednesday wrapped up its third monthly hearing on the tower without taking a vote and scheduled its next hearing for the project on Nov. 14.

Meanwhile, city staff announced that a draft of the downtown plan, originally scheduled to be unveiled at a since-cancelled Downtown Plan Committee meeting Oct. 3, now will have it's key points discussed at a committee meeting at 8 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 18, in Room 2200 of the Civic Centerwith a full scale unveiling sometime toward the end of the month.

Given the lengthy process leading up to a final City Council vote, it's unclear whether tower or plan will reach the finish line first.

At Wednesday's Plan Commission hearing members of the Central Street Neighbors Association, who've been pressing for zoning code changes on Central Street to block developments there they don't like, embraced the existing zoning of the Fountain Square block as the will of the people that should not be altered.

"Personally I think the building is quite lovely," Barbara Rakley, an activist with the group said, "but it doesn't belong in Evanston."

Another member of the group, John Walsh, said the group's leaders polled its membership by e-mail and not a single person favored the tower project.

"City leaders may be misjudging community sentiment," Mr. Walsh said, adding that many people object to "changing the heart and character" of the town so that it "resembles Chicago in more ways than one."

Robert Atkins of 2005 Orrington Ave., said he'd lived at that address, 3.5 blocks from the tower site, for 32 years. He said the developers "have failed to meet the burden of showing why zoning laws should be ignored and why the proposed planned development is in the public interest."

Jonathan Perman, Executive Director of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce, said downtown merchants need the additional residents who would live in the tower's 218 condo units.

"We are now starting to have the critical mass of residents and visitors to drive retail, entertainment and dining," Mr. Perman said, "but ask the businesses, as I have, they need more customer traffic for them to prosper."

He also said the project would generate $3.3 million in new tax revenue each year for the city's school districts -- "enough for 60 teachers' salary and benefits."

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Insidious development

For those who oppose creeping development of our downtown and the corresponding loss of its character, this project is the equivalent of death by a thousand cuts.