Proposal for office building at EPL lot denied


Daily file photo by Nathan Richards

Evanston Public Library. The Evanston Plan Commission denied a proposal to develop a 13-story office building on the library parking lot.

Clare Proctor, Assistant City Editor

The Evanston Plan Commission voted 4-1 Wednesday to deny a proposed development at the Evanston Public Library surface parking lot.

Developers had designed a 13-story office building to be constructed at 1714-1720 Chicago Ave. The committee justified their decision by citing concerns about parking for the library and surrounding businesses, the danger to nearby historic buildings, and the size of the proposed structure.

Developers asked the commission to approve a zoning change from a general residential area to a downtown core development district. The commission also raised concerns about spot zoning, meaning the zoning plan would benefit a single parcel of land by creating allowances not provided to other buildings in the area.

Commissioner Carol Goddard said the public benefits offered from the developers — improved sidewalks and bike storage, to name a few — are not “meaty enough” to offset the adjustments the development requires.

“We know that the city wants an office building on this site,” Goddard said. “When we get a project like this … we generally get something back. We get a little park area or a patio or anything that is for public benefit.”

The Plan Commission — a recommending body with no final say on whether the proposal is approved by the city — allowed for public comment from residents, who had many concerns about the effects of the proposed development.

EPL board president Ben Schapiro said the library’s biggest concern with the development is the loss of parking, if the developers plan to utilize the library’s underground lot for overflow parking for the office building.

“We see an average of 1,700 people every day at the public library,” Schapiro said. “That lot is key to our ability to provide services to our public.”

Paul Janicki, the architect for the proposed development, said the underground parking lot has been “underutilized,” citing a study completed by the developers, observing parking lot capacity on four different occasions.

Located next to the proposed development are three historical buildings in Evanston: the Woman’s Club of Evanston, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Frances Willard House Museum. Many residents voiced concerns about how the development would affect the safety and preservation of these buildings.

Glen Madeja, executive director of the Frances Willard Historical Association, said property security and water runoff protection were the association’s primary considerations.

“I can’t see how having a 13-story building is going to help that situation,” Madeja said.

Developers were not worried that the building would cause the historical sites to be “somehow endangered,” Janicki said.

Kim Stanton, incoming president of the Woman’s Club of Evanston, said in an interview that although the decision to deny the proposal was the desired outcome, “there’s a lot of work ahead” as the commission does not have the final say on the proposal.

“It’s just the beginning of something that has been going on for three years,” she said. “It is a positive, but it’s not a win.”

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