New Plans For West Evanston

Nomaan Merchant

Evanston’s own “West Side Story” has followed the same script for quite a while. Every article having to do with West Evanston in The Daily or other publications always has a paragraph or two that reads about the same: the community started to decline in the 1960s, the city has discussed revitalizing the area for decades, and storefronts on Church Street and Dodge Avenue sit empty a mile west of Sherman Plaza.

Within the past few years, however, city government has strengthened its efforts. First, Evanston created a Tax Increment Financing district for a corridor of West Evanston in 2005. TIF districts channel new tax revenues into a fund used for improving streets and sidewalks as well as encouraging development.

Last summer, Evanston hired two planning firms to meet with West Side residents about what they wanted their community to look like – which buildings should go where, how large sidewalks should be and, of course, what the future of the corner of Church and Dodge, the heart of Evanston’s historically black neighborhood, should be.

The plan, compiled by the two firms, JJR Co. and Farr Associates, with community and city feedback, finally received approval from the Evanston City Council on Monday night. Meanwhile, a moratorium on all new development finally will expire on May 18.

The moratorium was first enacted to prevent uncontrolled development that would clash with community goals. A 20-story condominium building wouldn’t fit on the corner of Church and Dodge. By approving the plan, Evanston has made a commitment to ensure that West Evanston moves forward while maintaining its distinct character.

Participants in the meetings to create the plan discussed exciting possibilities for the area. A large, abandoned railroad viaduct that cuts the neighborhood in two could be torn down and converted into a natural walkway with greenspace and bike paths. Other ideas that were discussed include a sidewalk caf