The six neighborhood groups near the Evanston Plaza shopping center at Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue won approval last week from the City’s Economic Development Committee to spend slightly more than half of a neighborhood impact fund set up when the plaza was constructed. The fund – to which developer Joseph Freed has contributed $20,000 annually since 1999 – was set up to improve the neighborhood and help offset some of the impact of the plaza. The money in the fund, termed both a “mitigation” fund and a “neighborhood improvement” fund, is to be spent for improvements to the area between Greenwood and Lee streets (north and south) and between Florence and Hartrey avenues (east and west).

Now, having garnered nearly $200,000, the neighborhood groups have come up with four projects on which to spend the money: beautifying 55 corner parkways with plantings; funding two soccer teams; distributing 4,000 reusable shopping bags, called ChicoBags, to neighborhood families; and providing bicycle helmets, bike safety seminars and safety checks for all area bicycle and tricycle riders up to age 16. The total cost of all four projects is about $108,000, said Morris Robinson of the City’s Planning Division. “The neighborhood groups and neighbors have been working very hard to bring this to fruition,” he added.

Julie Westbrook, head of the West Crown Park Neighbors, gave Committee members sample ChicoBags, which hold up to 20 pounds of groceries. “And when you can’t use them any more,” she said, “the company will take them back and recycle them into something else.”

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she thought the proposals were “some of the most creative ideas I’ve seen.”

Dickelle Fonda of Dewey-Darrow Neighbors thanked former Second Ward Alderman Dennis Drummer and the others who were Council members at the time for creating the fund. Dennis Marino of the Planning Division said a similar neighborhood fund was created when the Home Depot came to Oakton Street.

The committee unanimously approved the proposals to be forwarded to City Council for final approval.