Residents weigh in on 1012-1034 Chicago Avenue developments


Thea Showalter/The Daily Northwestern

Evanston community members break into small groups to brainstorm and discuss changes to the Chicago Avenue streetfront. Residents expressed concern with traffic and building heights.

Thea Showalter, Reporter

Open-air restaurants, residential housing with a walkthrough to the nearby Purple Line Metra station, eco-friendly office space and apartments are only a few of the structures that Evanston community members envision along Chicago Avenue.

Evanston residents and business owners gathered Thursday evening for a community meeting to discuss potential changes to buildings at 1012-1034 Chicago Ave. The meeting took place in Evanston business owner Richard Fisher’s Fiat Autobarn store, one of the buildings facing potential redevelopment.

According to Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) the community meeting was a unique move on the part of Evanston developers.

“This is a flipped process from what we’ve done in the past,” Wynne said. “[Development plans] are usually a finished concept the first time the community gets to see it.”

Wynne added that presenting finished concepts to the Evanston community has been difficult since the desires of Evanston residents often differ from the desires of developers. The unique opportunity for the community to voice concerns and express preferences before any formal development plans was an effort to avoid conflict, Wynne said.

The stretch of Chicago Avenue facing redevelopment is home to Fisher’s Autobarn business and the 89-year-old rug store Oscar Isberian Rugs. Both owners expressed interest in how potential redevelopment could increase business.

“I’m not really pleased with the way our store is working now — the layout, the customer experience,” store owner Oscar Tatosian said. “Design-wise, it’s not where we want it to be.”

Tatosian added that he believed his goals as a business owner are compatible with the desires of Evanston residents.

Fisher said that redevelopment of the Chicago Avenue buildings is potentially beneficial for his stores as well because he may relocate his service centers to another area of Evanston.

“We could actually give up the buildings on the west side of Chicago Avenue without affecting our businesses, without losing any jobs in Evanston, but significantly reducing overhead costs,” Fisher said.

However, Fisher added that he was hoping to get a feeling from his neighbors as to what they would like to see in the long term in order to improve the Chicago Avenue streetscape.

The meeting coordinators expected about 25 Evanston community members to attend, said Joanna Leonard, Evanston’s community development director, but over 60 people went.

“It’s useful for the property owners to get a better sense of what community concerns could be…so they have an idea of what they want to do, versus what the community wants to do,” Leonard said. “It’s a collaborative process.”

The residents broke in to small groups to discuss their ideas and reconvened to present their ideas to community development leaders.

Evanston community members voiced concern about building heights, the addition of more residential zones, rent costs, and pedestrian friendly lighting and sidewalks.

“There’s a tremendous amount of congestion, compared to how it was when I was a kid,” said lifelong Evanston resident John Storey Williamson.

Storey Williamson said he is concerned with traffic and the height of the buildings. According to Wynne, upwards of 20,000 cars drive along Chicago Avenue every day, and there are narrow sidewalks and few streetlights.

Evanston resident Maureen Glasoe, who lives a few blocks from the Chicago Avenue stores, said she walks this stretch of Chicago Avenue frequently on foot.

“It’s dark and uninviting,” said Glasoe, adding that she wanted more “lighting and vibrancy.”

“Oh,” she added. “And a rooftop restaurant, please, among the trees!”

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