How does the new Fountain Square tower proposal stack up against existing zoning rules? It’s expected to be several more days before city officials release a formal zoning analysis of the project, but a comparison of the developers’ proposal with zoning code provisions provides some rough benchmarks.

How does the new Fountain Square tower proposal stack up against existing zoning rules? It’s expected to be several more days before city officials release a formal zoning analysis of the project, but a comparison of the developers’ proposal with zoning code provisions provides some rough benchmarks.

At 523 feet the 49-story tower would be more than four times as high as the 125-foot limit permitted for the block, even with planned development allowances.

Floor area ratio
Floor area ratio describes the relationship of the total square footage of a building to the size of the lot. The zoning code permits a floor area ratio of 4.0 for planned developments in the D-2 zone — or a square footage four times the lot size.

It’s not possible to calculate the precise floor area ratio of the proposed building from the rendering the developers have publicly released, but it appears to be in the neighborhood of 20 — roughly five times the zoning code limit.

The zoning code requires that the base of a building fronting on Church, Sherman or Orrington must be built to the lot line, but it must have a Ziggurat setback of at least 40 feet starting from a point between 24 and 42 feet above the ground.

The proposed building’s base would be built to the lot line, and the design provides a 40-foot Ziggurat setback, but the setback starts five floors, or roughly 50 feet, above the ground.

The developers say they plan to provide 1.1 parking spaces per residential unit, which they say is the same as what they provided at Sherman Plaza. With a plan for 218 residential units in the new building, that would work out to a total of about 240 parking spaces.

The city’s zoning code calls for 1.25 spaces for units with one bedroom or less, 1.5 spaces for two bedroom units and 2 spaces per unit for units with three bedrooms or more. Assuming an equal mix of one- two- and three-bedroom units, the zoning code would require about 345 parking spaces for the residential units.

In addition, the zoning code calls for one parking space for every 437.5 square feet of retail space downtown, with an exemption for the first 3,000 square feet.

With parking ramps running through the core of the first and second floors, it’s not completely clear how much retail floor area would be available on the 30,000 square foot lot. But assuming 43,000 total retail square feet, the zoning code would appear to require about 90 retail parking spaces.

However, at the city’s discretion, parking space requirements can be met by a developer leasing spaces from the city in a parking lot within 1,000 feet of the site.

With the Sherman Plaza garage well within that distance limit, it may be possible for the developer to meet part of the parking requirement by leasing space in the city garage, which the developers say is now under-utilized.


Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Bill a few questions? On parking in the new project.
    Bill – do you know if what the city rents the spaces for? Do you know how much we paid for each space in the Sherman ave garage? Do you think this is a good deal for taxpayers? Why are we over building parking for develpers?

    1. Good questions
      Hi Junad,
      Good questions. I don’t have answers at the moment, but I’m sure they will emerge as discussion about the project continues.
      I know the city now leases space in the Maple Avenue garage to the owners of the 1890 Maple building, and that Carroll Properties wants to lease a smaller number of spaces in that garage if its plan for the 1890 Maple site is approved. So, such a deal would not be unprecedented.
      If the rates are set right — so as to fully recover costs and generate funds for an ultimate replacement of the garage — it seems to me that providing downtown parking is an appropriate business for the city to be in, especially in an older community in which a lot of existing development does not have adequate on-site parking. What do you think?
      — Bill

      1. parking
        Some thoughts on the proposed development triggered by comments at EvanstonNow.

        Interesting in reading about the zoning, especially how it would flaunt existing height limits, is the matter of parking. The developers now claim that the new garage is underutilized and one suspects they will claim several points:

        1) that the required ratios of cars to dwelling units are not needed

        2) that the required amount of retail parking will not be needed (of course the actual square footage of retail and restaurant is not yet known either)

        3) that the “underutilized space within the Sherman Plaza Garage can be used for the required parking not being provided in the “Evanston Finger” project.

        It is hard walking in downtown Evanston, one keeps bumping into developers with outstretched palms.

        Here we go again…

  2. Wedding cake zoning
    The zoning requirements for height on that site don’t seem to make sense to me. It seems like the code should be updated to allow the so-called wedding cake effect to happen.

    I’m not sure if 40 stories is appropriate, but I don’t object to the idea of having the tallest building in the city on that block. The current zoning requirements for height and FAR shouldn’t apply, although the setbacks should (and it seems like they will be close).

    Parking seems like more of a market driven issue. I’m sure the developer will provide enough parking to sell the units, but they shouldn’t be forced to build more than what the market demands. An empty garage isn’t in anyones best interest.

    1. Phil,

      While I agree with

      While I agree with you that an empty garage is not in the interest of either the city, the downtown businesses, or developers, I do not agree with the concept of urban planning achieved by having developers by lobbying the city council for myriad zoning changes and tax breaks for each and every new building that they wish to have go up. The fact that the Sherman Avenue garage is largely empty suggests that consumers are not seeing downtown as a desirable shopping and eating destination. Could this be because downtown streets are too narrow for the volume of traffic and that the cost of parking is too high? If building according to zoning is not going to allow the developer to make a reasonable profit, should the building even happen? I would have no problem with any of this if this building were being built according to height, FAR, setback, and parking requirements as called out in current zoning. Someone came up with those guidelines for a reason, didn’t they?
      There is enough of a wind tunnel effect on Sherman Avenue now without this latest statement of developer ego compounding that problem.

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