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Neighborhood opposition to a zoning change in one small district in
the Central Street master plan and overlay district continued at the Jan. 28 Planning and Development Committee and City Council meetings, but aldermen approved the plan unanimously even as some of them acknowledged the neighbors’ concerns.
The office, or O-1 district within the overlay, will now allow dormitories as a special use.
The plan calls for downzoning of the low-rise buildings between Green Bay Road and Hartrey Avenue and up-zoning of the buildings in the Central/Crawford/Gross Point area and the Central/Green Bay area. Buildings in the small shopping area sometimes called Evanston’s “crown jewel” of shopping would be rezoned from a maximum height of four stories or 45 feet to a maximum of two-and-one-half stories or 35 feet.
The more intensely commercial areas, along Green Bay Road both north and south of Central Street and at the Central/Crawford/Gross Point junction are rezoned B1a, which permits mixed-use developments up to four stories.
Enhanced streetscapes and improvement to Bent and Independence parks are also part of the plan.
Several months ago, the plan called for a hotel near Ryan Field, on land owned by Northwestern University, but that was withdrawn after the University objected to the proposals.
Neighborhood objection arose from a zoning change approved last summer by the Plan Commission, which would allow dormitories as a special use in the O-1, or office, district within the overlay district – in the 1600 block of Central Street. The request for the change to allow the special use came from National-Louis University, which wishes to purchase the office building (known locally as the “insurance building”) for its PACE program. The 26,700 square-foot building would provide both classrooms and living space for the program’s 60 students and seven instructors, said Jack Lawlor, attorney for National-Louis.
Mr. Lawlor also noted that National-Louis had sold its former property on Sheridan Road north of Isabella Street to a for-profit developer, adding 54,000 square feet of property to the tax rolls and now “National-Louis is interested in acquiring 31,000 square feet.”
He said the net gain in property taxes is between the two properties is about $63,000 per year.
Several neighbors said they objected to the special use. Some felt the process had been unfair, since the proposed zoning amendment had been approved by the Plan Commission after the plan itself had been approved.
Ken Bailey, who lives in the 1600 Central block, said, “If it’s not in the plan, it shouldn’t be in the zoning implementation.”
Others said they felt the noise and traffic congestion resulting from a dormitory nearby would affect their quality of life. Susan Yont, who said she was speaking for several condominium owners in the area said she was “adamantly opposed to the rezoning of 1620 Central St. to allow a dormitory. … This will add to noise and traffic.” The neighbors also objected to the process, she said.
Another criticism was that the request for the addition of dormitories as a special use in the O1 area was “transaction-driven,” – generated, in other words, by the desire of National-Louis to purchase the building for its PACE program rather than by the planning process itself.
Several people spoke in favor of the plan. John Walsh, vice president of the Central Street Neighbors Association, said he “urged passage [of the zoning implementation] with or without the [special use].”
Alderman Anjana Hansen, 9th Ward, who chaired the Planning and Development Committee, limited most of the speakers to the zoning amendments, saying that comment about the PACE program of National-Louis was premature, but did allow some comments on the program.
“Noise has to happen if we’re gong to do more than go to work and come home,” Richard Fleer, a student in the PACE program told Council and audience members, “There’s more to life in a city than just having it quiet.”
Patrick Hughes, who lives nearby and who has advocated for inclusion of persons with disabilities in daily living, said, “I’m passionate about this issue. … I have to say that part of this discussion is about who is going to be living in this dormitory. … But the PACE program has been part of National-Louis for 21 years and when it was on Sheridan Road, people who lived across the street in million-dollar houses didn’t object. Most people didn’t know about it. … Businesses are supporting it. Mustard’s Last Stand is ready; Bluestone is ready. … A lot of us who live in the neighborhood are exited.”
Alderman Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward, said, “I’m concerned about the process and concerned about the genesis of the change and how it came to us. … Although some might think that a vote for dormitories as a special use is a vote for the PACE project, it is a vote on special uses.”
James Wolinski, director of community development for the City, said, “This is a comprehensive concept plan, with the types of uses and building types you would like to see. … Zoning is a fluid situation and its stops being fluid when Council approves it. … It’s unfortunate that people think this was done at the 11th hour.