About 60 residents met at Autobarn Fiat of Evanston on April 4 to hear initial thoughts from Chicago Avenue business owners about redeveloping the west end of that thoroughfare, and to have their suggestions for such a plan heard.
Richard Fisher of Autobarn said that the remaining service departments from the dealerships would be moving to its tech center on the southwest side of Evanston, lowering overhead for the business and reducing the potential for neighborhood complaints about noise. That opens the possibility for a redevelopment he said could improve the aesthetics along Chicago Avenue in the 1000 block.
“For our business, it makes sense,” Mr. Fisher said, adding, “We would like to see the Chicago Avenue streetscape more beautiful.”
Autobarn employs about 186 people, he added.
Oscar Tatosian of Oscar Isberian Rugs, who is also helping back the redevelopment agreed, saying “We have to make Chicago Avenue more beautiful.”
Nothing is firmly in place, beyond a consensus that a new development along the west side of Chicago Avenue could only improve what business owners and residents say is one of the least appealing Evanston business corridors. So Mr. Fisher, Mr. Tatosian and other backers have no set ideas on what the redevelopment would consist of.
Meeting participants were divided into breakout groups, and Evanston Community Development Director Johanna Leonard moderated a discussion wherein suggestions were heard.
“There’s no development at the moment. … This is about information-gathering,” said Ms. Leonard.
Several participants spoke about paying strict attention to the scale of the neighborhood, an issue that has raised much consternation locally in recent years.
“[Our group] wanted beautification, but we are against very tall apartment buildings,” reported one audience member.
Another added, “Hopefully, they will stick to the zoning rules with no variances.”
Yet another speaker hoped principals would “avoid the brutal architecture we have at Main and Chicago.”
Among current concerns with Chicago Avenue audience members hoped to see addressed were the area’s relative lack of natural sunlight and its narrow sidewalks.
Participants weighed in with numerous suggestions about how the land could be used, among them an independent movie theater, rooftop dining and even a space that could potentially be occupied by Skokie-based Northlight Theatre, which recently contemplated a move back to Evanston, where it was founded.
A number of participants voiced concerns about the development consisting of rental units, urging that potential residences be condominiums. One resident however disagreed, saying that they would “challenge the City and the owners … to think about apartments.”
In his closing remarks, Mr. Fisher said he would take the suggestions to heart as he and the other principals thought about the highest and best use of the property within their own limitations.
Ald. Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, opened the meeting but had to leave due to family issues. She called the information-gathering session “a tremendous first step.”