Aldermen disagree with residents’ worries about downtown development


(Katie Pach/Daily Senior Staffer)

Ald. Donald Wilson (4th) speaks at a City Council meeting. Wilson, and other aldermen, said the 2009 Downtown Evanston development plan is outdated.

Ryan Wangman, Development and Recruitment Editor

City officials challenged residents’ concerns about the scale of recently proposed developments in downtown Evanston at a special City Council meeting Monday.

At the heart of these complaints is the city’s perceived deviation from a 2009 framework that outlines the development and use of property in the downtown area. Many officials, including Ald. Donald Wilson (4th), said the 8-year-old Downtown Evanston Plan was outdated.

“This plan stopped making sense,” Wilson said. “I realize it was well-intended, I realize a lot of time and effort went into it, but … by the time it actually got adopted the reality had changed.”

Wilson said he was “baffled” by people who insist on following the development plan’s guidelines for new construction, but neglect to mention its failures. The 2009 framework fell short of its projected expansionary goals by about 1,000 units of housing and 35,000 square feet of retail space, he said.

Therefore, Wilson said, he has no interest in codifying that plan and wants to continue vetting projects through a thoughtful, public process.

Debate over the development plan’s relevance followed last week’s council-approved $4 million sale of the parking lot near Evanston Public Library to development firm Chicago Avenue Partners. The firm plans to erect an 11-story office building in the space.

Kiera Kelly, who spoke during the citizen comment portion of the meeting, said she believes the council should also take into account the 2009 guidelines when voting on the proposed Albion Residential building, which would be located at 1454 Sherman Ave. Kelly said the new high-rises have the potential to “obliterate the traditional” northern and southern Evanston zones.

“Today, I have to be honest, it seems like the ‘Wild West’ of development in Evanston and we must pause,” she said.

In September, the Evanston Plan Commission recommended Albion Residential’s proposal for council approval. City Council is set to decide the fate of the building at its Oct. 9 meeting.

Kelly said the council should discard the framework if it neglects to use it when making decisions on proposed buildings.

But Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) said it was important to revisit the guidelines and discuss what to do moving forward.

The development plan was supposed to give citizens and developers a clear sense of what to expect with structural changes to the community, Wynne said. The standards haven’t been utilized during recent conversations about high-rise buildings because they don’t meet the city’s current needs, she said.

As a result, Wynne said, the community has been divided. Going forward, it will be important for local residents to decide on a collective vision for the downtown landscape, she said.

“Piecemeal development is terrible,” Wynne said. “We should not be in a position where we are doing individual negotiations for every property.”

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