Evanston Plan Commission votes against rezoning amendments

Henry Rogers, Reporter

Members of the Evanston Plan Commission voted 4-1 against two proposed amendments to rezone a residential area in the center of the 5th Ward at a Wednesday meeting, citing precedent and concerns of spot zoning.

The amendments — which affect an area north of Emerson Street — would have reclassified the area’s zoning designation and reduced the maximum height limit in the area from five stories to 3.5 stories.

The commission’s vote comes eight months after a developer’s plans for a 102-unit development sparked community backlash. Although the plan was ultimately scrapped, an aldermanic referral was filed in response that proposed the two amendments, according to a plan commission memorandum.

Victoria Kathrein, the property owner of the scrapped development’s proposed location, spoke against the proposed amendments, because she plans to develop residential properties within the area into condominiums. She was accompanied by her attorney, Thomas Ramsdell, and zoning consultant George Kisiel.

“We can all see what’s happening,” said Kathrein. “Everything is moving out of downtown. They’ve built out downtown already and it’s moving in all directions.”

If the two amendments were passed, the reduced height limit would account for a 33 percent loss of development rights in terms of gross floor area, Kisiel said.

Ramsdell, Kathrein’s lawyer, said his client had no knowledge of the scrapped development plan until after it was announced by the developer, Domanus Development. He said she intended to construct a much smaller development that would consist of only 44 to 52 units.

Dozens of community members also attended the meeting, and most expressed support for the amendments or opposition to Kathrein’s planned development.

Carolyn Dellutri, the former executive director of Downtown Evanston, said she strongly supported the amendments and urged the planning commission to consider the 600 housing units scheduled to come online in the downtown district in the near future. She also referenced a 2005 report from City Council that outlined goals to foster neighborhood pride and consider community vision when revising the zoning map to justify her support of the amendments.

Kathrein, a former resident of the USSR, voiced disappointment with the community’s opposition to her proposed development and described having higher expectations for real estate development in the United States.

“I come from the former Soviet Union where anyone can step in and take what you built, take what you created and destroy it,” said Kathrein. “I never thought I would be faced with something like this.”

Despite her attempts to sway public opinion against the amendments, community members stood firm in their opposition throughout the meeting, which resulted in the eventual rejection of the amendments.

In justification of their vote against the two amendments, commissioners Jennifer Draper and Brian Johnson cited the Commission’s precedent of not downzoning residential areas, especially if not part of a comprehensive rezoning plan.

“I can’t think of any properties (that have been downzoned),” Meagan Jones, the Evanston neighborhood and land use planner, said. “Typically, if there’s a kind of zoning change, it’s usually going to be a higher density or have a different type of use.”

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