Aldermen consider changes to city’s public benefits ordinance


Colin Boyle/Daily Senior Staffer

Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) speaks at a council meeting. Wynne said she wants the city to create a clearer list of public benefits for developers.

Samantha Handler, Assistant City Editor

Aldermen directed city staff at Monday’s City Council meeting to create a more definitive list of public benefits that developers can include when proposing a new project.

A current city zoning ordinance lists nine public benefits that are supposed to be provided by new developers, though Evanston director of community development Johanna Leonard said some items are “wildly” open to interpretation. At the last council meeting, Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) said she did not consider a number of the public benefits the developer listed to be benefits because they are required by law.

Wynne said the city should change the zoning ordinance to remove benefits that are mandated by other city ordinances, including the Green Building Ordinance and Inclusionary Housing Ordinance.

“We’re not very good at being clear to developers or the community in terms of how we value and what we’d like to see in terms of public benefits,” Wynne said.

According to city documents, public benefits are used as legal conditions for development and are imposed on developers to alleviate the negative impacts of a property. The documents list preservation of historic and natural resources, business development and provision of a variety of housing types as some possible benefits.

Wynne said she would like to see a more specific list that removes subjective terms and gives the development community and residents a better idea of which benefits the council prioritizes.

By offering benefits, developers can possibly obtain certain site allowances such as ones around floor area ratios and building height. Some aldermen suggested that city staff come up with a list of categorized benefits that would help developers understand what they can provide to possibly receive these allowances.

Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) said public benefits are relative to each project, so aldermen need to be more involved in identifying what would benefit their wards. She said the city should look at a program the Chicago aldermen have, in which big projects are proposed to a community committee.

Rainey added that she often sees a project’s public benefits for the first time at the Plan Commission, and she sees certain items — like pay boxes — listed that she does not consider necessary in the 8th Ward.

“I just think that nobody’s talking to us about what those public benefits are, at least they’re not talking to me,” Rainey said. “We ought to be more involved in that. There should be a step that’s not being taken.”

Assistant city manager Erika Storlie said staff will come back to City Council in late July or early August with an amended ordinance.

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