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West side plan: The cost crunch

Draft zoning

Draft zoning

The pretty pictures of Evanston's West Side Plan started to bump up against the ugly realities of cost and control at a Zoning Committee meeting this morning.

Draft zoning

The pretty pictures of Evanston's West Side Plan started to bump up against the ugly realities of cost and control at a Zoning Committee meeting this morning.

Draft zoning

A draft zoning map for the portion of the west side area from Church to Emerson Streets. New streets are shown in blue. 

"The economics are missing here," developer Walter Kihm said at the meeting. The plan, he said, calls for substantial spending on new streets and utility lines, but makes no provision for how those public improvements will be paid for.

"If this is going to be the bible for the area," he added, "Then I think the bible is telling us it's going to put the breaks on a good deal of development in this community."

Planning consultant Leslie Oberholtzer of Farr Associates said the planning work included a market analysis to determine what housing density would be needed to make redevelopment of the area work.

But developer John Wertymer said the cost analysis didn't include the public park space and streets. Mr. Wertymer,

who's part of a team of developers who control the Tapecoat property on Lyons Street, said at least a third of that property would be devoted to streets in the city's draft plan.

Community Development Director James Wolinski said paying for infrastructure improvements "is a public policy question that the City Council has to address. We really haven't had that discussion fully yet. Typically in suburbia the developer pays for all of it, but this is a different case."

Ms. Oberholtzer said, "I don't thin kthe city can have any kind of discussion about costs until the master plan is adopted by the council. The master plan is the vision. Until the council says that's the vision, how can we discuss public-private partnerships to achieve it."

The plan covers land that is owned by roughly 10 different owners, some of whom have no intention of redeveloping their parcels. That could leave planned new through streets as dead ends for decades.

Also unclear at this point is whether the City Council is willing to adopt the detailed new zoning contemplated by the plan and then let developments occur as of right under that zoning, or whether it wants to retain the control over individual projects that it now has using the planned development process.

Developers at the meeting voiced concerns about the added delay and uncertaining the planned development process would create.

But the planned development process also lets developers negotiate for special zoning concessions to make a project more economically attractive — and lets the city seek individualized public benefits from the developers.

If the new zoning overlay districts eliminate that give-and-take it could make the development process run more smoothly — but it could also cause redevelopment of the old industrial area to stall out if the zoning rules don't permit economically viable projects.

The City Council's Planning and Development Committee is scheduled to discuss the West Side Master Plan at a special meeting at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 22.

The Zoning Committee of the Plan Commission will meet again to discuss the zoning rules to implement the plan at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 8.

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