Evanston’s City Council Monday advanced a plan that would ease restrictions on some ground-floor office uses in business districts as a way to fill spaces left vacant by the pandemic.

The proposal from the city’s Community Development Department would eliminate extra parking now required for medical office uses in many business zones.

Medical offices would then be subject to an administrative review process that typically takes two to three weeks, rather than the city’s special use review process that can take three to four months.

However, another part of the staff proposal would tighten restrictions on office uses in some other districts, shifting them from permitted uses to administrative review uses.

In a memo, Zoning Administrator Melissa Klotz said that would “allow potential parking issues to be addressed on a case-by-case basis while maintaining a quick yet transparent zoning process.”

She added that the new process also would permit the city to adjust for the ebb and flow of the economic market and permit “quick approval of more ground-floor office uses when vacancies are high while maintaining the ability for deferral or denial when vacancies are lower and ground-floor commercial space should be reserved for more retail-oriented uses.”

The immediate driver for the proposed changes, city staff says, has been a flood of requests for COVID testing sites.

They’re considered medical offices under the zoning code and would require rarely-available additional parking in many business districts under the existing city rules.

The changes were recommended for approval by the Land Use Commission last month.

They were approved unanimously by the Planning and Development Committee Monday night with only minimal discussion and approved for introduction on the City Council’s consent agenda.

Final approval is scheduled for the Council’s March 28 meeting.

In other Planning and Development matters Monday, the Council gave final approval to the planned office tower on the former Burger King site at 1740 Orrington Ave. and approved for introduction parking variations to permit addition of 35 apartments to the upper floors of the Varsity Theater building.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. I’ve heard from some small business owners and not-for-profit groups about their experiencing ongoing difficulties with landlords, who often show little concern for economic conditions (except as it impacts on their bottom line) during Covid times. They’ve been very rigid with rental rates, requiring two year leases (instead of a less restrictive one year lease.)I realize that times may be difficult for many. However, flexibility must prevail, and landlords need to “have a heart”!

  2. Again, why isn’t Evanston focusing on bringing the retail portion back? Sorry to be so negative but I grew up in Evanston and remember how the downtown area thrived with all the boutiques and retail stores. Evanston should take note to the surrounding suburbs and grab the ideas of what works and what doesn’t. Not only do we have the capability to gain retail back, we have a lake that can be utilized as well. I feel that Evanston is really missing the opportunity here. No to office buildings in retails spaces. That’s a band-aid!

      1. I agree with RAD, too. This “solution” of filling vacant first-floor retail with offices – or, even worse, COVID testing sites – will complete Evanston’s transformation into one of the region’s most characterless suburban downtowns.

  3. This is a very bad idea. Evanston already suffers from the blight of low-traffic businesses — storefronts now given over to medical offices, distribution, tax prep, etc. Placing offices at street level will snowball this effect. We need to be encouraging the kinds of business that attracts people to our downtown.

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