David Galloway, left, and Jack Weiss of Design Evanston, a group that conducted a charette for the library lot.                                                                                  RoundTable photo  

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Evanston City Council members showed interest in a local design group’s offer on July 8 to utilize its expertise in exploring solutions for the development of the City-owned library lot.

Addressing the City Council’s Planning and Development Committee July 8, David Galloway, Vice President of Design Evanston, a not-for-profit design advocacy group, told aldermen that “given the level of consternation and controversy related to the development of the 1714-20 [Chicago Ave.] property,” the group is volunteering to hold a charette [special meeting], exploring possibilities for the site.

“We believe that the results of such an effort would add valuable information and context for any future RFQ [Request for Qualifications],” he said.

Earlier this year, City Council rejected a developer’s proposal to build an 11-story office building at the site.

During the process, members of two City committees, as well as residents of adjacent residential properties, had raised concerns about the bulk and height of the building, as well as the small setbacks proposed to fit the building into the space.

The property is wedged between two historic structures – the three-story Woman’s Club of Evanston to the south at 1702 Chicago Ave. and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union properties to the north, with a busy alley that runs along the west side of the property line.

Mr. Galloway told aldermen that Design Evanston members include planners, architects, landscape architects, graphic designers and interior designers.

The group would pool existing information on the site, including zoning, searching for development solutions.

At the Planning and Development meeting, aldermen expressed interest in moving in that direction, holding off on a proposal by First Ward Alderman Judy Fiske to gauge interest from developers.

Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, said the design group could provide “really important expert assistance that we’ll need to determine what would be appropriate for this site.”

Alderman Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, said he preferred moving in that direction at the current time, raising concern that “if  we get just a random list of things [inviting interest from developers], it could be completely inappropriate, cause a lot of consternation in the community, even though there might be things we might not otherwise pursue.”

Ald. Fiske said her proposal was in response to those people who contacted the City during the debate over the proposed office building and indicated they might be interested in developing the site if that project did not work out.

“And I think it’s incumbent to respond to them, hear what they have to say, and what their vision for the site is,” she said.

Ald. Fiske pointed out that the property, as currently zoned, allows for a building 85 feet tall with four more floors of parking.

“I would like to know what the development community is saying to us. We could either accept it or move forward with any of the responses or not. But I think it’s an easy piece of information we need to have going forward.”

Ald. Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, preferred the charette idea. To move forward with a request for qualifications at this stage, the City might receive a wide assortment of offers. “But then it’s apples, oranges, grapefruits, watermelons – you really can’t compare them,” she said.

“We’ve had charettes that have been useful,” she pointed out. “We had one about Fountain Square that really gave us the seeds for what we have now there. It’s an excellent process that many people can participate in, not just design professionals.”

But Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, expressed concern about a “closed” process, by only involving design professionals. She asked why the City could not move in both directions: have Design Evanston hold a charette, but also see what interest is in the market at this time.

“We want to know who’s out there that has any interest in a project at this location,” she said. We want to know how much money you have, how deep are your pockets, who is your team, who would be your builder, who would be your design people. …Those are the things we want to know. What would be so bad to have found out who the qualified people are who would be interested?”

“Let’s say nobody sends us anything. Let’s say we get 20 proposals,” Ald. Rainey said. “There might be something really brilliant. We’re asking who’s out there. I think we ought to give it a chance.”

Ald. Wilson said the City could indeed receive a ton of proposals if there were no price attached to the request and no limitations.

“Somebody might say, ‘Let’s do a tall hydroponic facility for growing plants,” he suggested as an example. “It could be anything, but I think we need to take the lead on this, and we need to make a decision on what we want as a community to have there before we open it up.”

Design Evanston Conducts Library Parking Lot Charette

Following up on a recent promise to the City Council, 20 Design Evanston professional members met on July 18 to conduct a charette – a concept-visioning session – to consider the  development of the Library Parking Lot  at 1714-1720 Chicago Ave. Historical, landscape, zoning and planning materials were presented to set the stage for three independent break-out sessions.

Design Evanston professional member Janet Steidl told the charette organizers, “Thank you for believing in the benefit of a closer look at the the parking lot’s potential. Design Evanston was definitely the right group to take on this challenge. Thank you for putting together such a comprehensive agenda – including the list of considerations for the [break-out] groups.”

She added, “The charette resulted in several key principles that can guide community leaders, interested developers and others toward a consensus on the future development of this key parcel.“

Conclusions of the charette will be presented to the City Council and general public within the next weeks.

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.