Central Street Residents Share Visions Of Future Development

Ketul Patel

By Ketul PatelThe Daily Northwestern

Don’t mess with Central Street.

That’s the message about 100 people attending the Central Street Visioning Workshop Thursday night sent The Lakota Group Inc., a consulting firm hired by Evanston to develop a plan for Central Street. It was the first of at least four workshops scheduled by the consultants.

Many residents said they would like to keep the quaint atmosphere of Central Street and didn’t want to see it become overdeveloped.

Representatives from the firm administered a “visual preference survey” in which residents rated examples of possible developments depending on whether they fit with their vision of Central Street.

Residents rated examples of different types of buildings from nearby communities, such as Glenview and Palatine. They also evaluated the overall look of sidewalks and storefronts, including a picture of Ann Taylor LOFT.

“(Central Street) is one of a kind with local businesses – it’s not Ann Taylor LOFT,” said Carla Reiter, who lives near Central Street, during roundtable discussion. “As a pedestrian, it gives you something nice to look at. I would like to see small, diverse shops.”

She also said she did not want to have franchise businesses that wouldn’t make an effort to connect with the neighborhood.

Marge Hill, a Central Street resident, said she would like to maintain the village atmosphere of the community. She said a majority of the examples residents were asked to evaluate came from downtown areas.

Residents also said they did not want the street to become a “canyon” with high buildings on either side.

Joe Hill said the city ought to limit the heights of new buildings on Central Street.

“What we have to remember is whatever we do on the street is transitional with single-family homes,” he said. “Whatever goes in on Central Street should probably be no more than two or three stories.”

Other recommendations included narrowing Central Street west of Lincolnwood Drive to slow traffic and adding greenery year-round. Some residents also said they wanted to widen alleys to no more than 15 feet so that traffic does not increase too much.

Evanston resident Douglas Tweedie said he wanted to have spaces where pedestrians could sit and interact with each other. For example, he said the city could install benches along the sidewalks.

Others recommended ideas for replacing the vacant Hot Dog Island at the intersection of Gross Point Road, Central Street and Crawford Avenue. Residents called the stand “ugly” and repeatedly returned to ideas to replace it.

The Lakota Group will hold its next workshop on Feb. 8, focusing on Central Street east of Hartrey Avenue. It will present these findings to the Planning and Development Committee and the Plan Commission on April 12.

Ald. Edmund Moran (6th) told the residents this process would help create a cohesive plan for the future of Central Street.

“Over the course of years, it’s been frustrating for me because we’ve been going at it piecemeal as projects come to us,” he said. “We will stop approaching it piecemeal and develop a vision for the future.”

One such project involves a controversial proposal for a four-story retail and residential building with 48 living units and 100 parking spaces. Its site includes two landmarks, a historic house at 1722 Central St. and a movie theater at 1702 Central St., that would have to be torn down.

The council voted at its Jan. 8 meeting to give the developer another chance to present its case after the Plan Commission recommended denial of the plan. The proposal will be discussed at the next Planning and Development Committee meeting on Feb. 12.

Moran told The Daily he didn’t know if this process would influence the proposed development the council is considering.

“If we get to April and we have this strong expression of desires, hopefully having had that in hand will ultimately affect the (developers) bringing this plan forward,” he said.

Reach Ketul Patel at [email protected]