A controversy over a zoning change in one section of the Central Street Master Plan has delayed the vote until at least the Jan. 28 City Council meeting. Although the Council adopted the Master Plan last July, aldermen must also approve zoning amendments that would allow the plan to be implemented, said zoning administrator Bill Dunkley. These amendments, to the City’s zoning ordinance as well as to the zoning map, would create the Overlay Central Street Corridor and several small zoning districts within it.

The district spans Central Street from the Crawford/Gross Point Road intersection on the west to Ridge Avenue on the east. Within the overlay district, much of the property along Central Street is down-zoned from a maximum height of four stories or 45 feet to three stories or 35 feet. The more commercial areas – at Gross Point/Crawford/Central, along Central between Hartrey and Prairie avenues and along Green Bay Road north and south of Central Street – are zoned B1a, which permits mixed-use developments up to four stories.

With the exception of proposals for some property owned by Northwestern University – which were withdrawn when the University objected – and the zoning change in one sub-area, the plan as presented is essentially the plan approved by the Plan Commission last year.

Much of the community appeared to support the plan. Jeff Smith, president of the Central Street Neighbors Association said, “Although we did not get everything that residents wanted, the proposed zoning has many important provisions and new ideas that implement the residents’ and the adopted Central Street Plan’s primary objectives of preserving the village character of the corridor and sustaining and enhancing it as a location for diverse, unique, small-scale, pedestrian-oriented retail shops, services and restaurants.”

The wrinkle arises from a change in one of the sub-areas that would allow a dormitory as a special use – that is, the change would permit City Council to entertain requests that the property be used for a dormitory.

Speaking at both the Planning and Development Committee and at City Council, Ken Bailey, said he represented residents in nearby condominium buildings and single-family houses who objected to a zoning change that he said could allow National-Louis University to purchase the building at 1620 Central St. and use it for PACE, the school’s education program for students with multiple developmental disabilities.

Mr. Bailey said the change, which would allow dormitories as a special use in the sub-area, was approved by the City’s Plan Commission and incorporated into the plan after the rest of the plan had been approved. “Nothing should be added to the [Central Street] plan. If it’s not in the plan, it should not be in the implementation [documents]. There is quite a bit of outrage [about the proposed special use].” He added that he felt this change was “transaction driven,” since it arose because National-Louis wished to purchase the building.

Jack Lawler, attorney for National-Louis, said National-Louis requested the zoning change so that it might later apply for a special use for the property: “National-Louis wants to purchase the building at 1620 Central St. to use as classrooms and a dormitory.”

He said this would be a special use, not a permitted use, and that in requesting the zoning change that would allow National-Louis to apply for approval of the classroom/dormitory, the zoning administrator Bill Dunkley “took a risk for the greater public good. … PACE is the Profession Assistance Center for Education, which provides post-secondary education for adults with multiple learning disabilities. It helps them learn to live and work independently.”

Mr. Lawler added, “I have lived in Evanston since 1969 and have always been proud of Evanston. What makes it unique is that Evanston is willing to invest in these young people. All that you [members of the Planning and Development Committee] are doing is allowing Council to consider at a later date [whether] to allow this facility as a special use.”

The plan is scheduled for a vote on Jan. 28. If the Council approves the plan, including the zoning change allowing for dormitories as a special use in that sub-area only, National-Louis would have to apply for the zoning change – the special use – using the City’s regular procedures.

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...