CSNA position statements and papers are or will be available here. Thank you for your patience while we retrieve positions archived at the former website.

Summary of Central Street Plan Ordinance

Click to read a summary of the 2008 zoning ordinance change that implemented the Central Street Master Plan. For the ordinance itself, click here to access the Evanston Municipal Code and then use the left sidebar at that site to scroll to the the Central Street Corridor Overlay District text, which starts at Chapter 6-15-14.

CSNA Statement on 708 Church St. "Tower" Proposal

The following statement was delivered to the Evanston Plan Commission by CSNA director John Walsh on Oct. 10, 2007.

"I am a director of the Central Street Neighbors Association. We are an organization with official membership of over 150, all in Evanston, and unofficial support from many more than that.

To date, we have not taken many positions on matters outside north Evanston. However, downtown Evanston is everybody's neighborhood. We believe that every Evanstonian and every neighborhood organization can weigh in on downtown, and should.

We favor appropriate development.

We also believe that the future of Evanston and its business districts, and the approval or denial of combined business-residential developments, should be planned, rather than piecemeal.

We also believe that the existing residents and taxpayers are the principal stakeholder in municipal decisionmaking, and that planning should be community-driven rather than foisted upon the community. We have been a full and active partner in the Central Street Master Plan process, and expect to continue to be, hoping not only to impact the future of our own neighborhood, but to improve the model of planning for all of Evanston, so that decisions on neighborhoods and their future are more responsive to what average people in Evanston need and want.

Right now, planning is ongoing for downtown Evanston.

This project is not consistent with existing plans and zoning. That is not our opinion, that is a fact. That is why the applicants are here seeking rezoning and then a very large variance, even from the zoning they seek.

Because of that, we took the pulse of both our board and our general membership. We decided that if we found opinion to be split, that our organization would not take a position.

We did not find a split of opinion. We found virtually no support for this project, in its current form, in the manner in which it is being presented. Many of our members who could not be here tonight urged us to take a stand. Many were quite passionate in their opposition.

Some City leaders may be greatly misjudging community sentiment. As far as we can tell, if it were up to the people of Evanston, this project would not be built.

There are many who object to what this project would do to Evanston, dramatically reshaping downtown and the course of the future, and making it resemble Chicago in more than one way. But just as many resent, quite vigorously, how this project is both avoiding and undermining planning. If passed, as is, it will also undermine trust in City governance.

We listened to and read the statement of the Southeast Evanston Association, which eloquently presented some important objections to the proposed project. We are in general agreement with that statement.

For these reasons, we ask that the Commission vote to deny the applications for map amendment and for planned development as submitted."

1700-1722 Central (a/k/a Evanston Theater site or "The Eastwood")

The 1700 block of Central Street was from the 1930s through 2007 the site of the Evanston Theater (originally known as the Stadium Theater), and also the Evanston II (collectively, the Cinema 5 Theaters), as well as a number of smaller businesses and a small, historic cottage. As of 2006 the property was zoned B2, a business district designed for older, pedestrian oriented shopping areas, with maximum height of 45' and maximum floor area (to lot size) ratio of 2.0. The movie theaters closed in approximately 2000.


About half the block was acquired for private redevelopment as The Eastwood of Evanston, a condominium mixed-use project. In 2006 the developers submitted a plan for a 5-story, 55-unit, 57'-high condominium building with an FAR of 2.27. The project proposal encountered heated neighborhood opposition over such matters as size, density, active storefront use, parking, and alley width, issues that had come up in other projects along Central Street as well as elsewhere in Evanston. After numerous hearings and meetings the developers submitted a modified 4-story, plan, 48' high with 51 units. Although the Plan Commission rejected it, it was approved by the City Council. In 2007 the existing structures between 1700 and 1722 Central were demolished.


The project controversy contributed both to the formation of the Central Street Neighbors Association and to the recognition of need for an overall zoning planning process and re-write.


As the real estate market collapsed in 2007-08, pre-sales for the project sputtered. The developers requested multiple extensions of time for groundbreaking and applying for a building permit, and eventually shut the sales office. As of fall, 2011, the site remained vacant, but the developers began steps for a new project, an apartment building.


This page, part of our Development "book," is intended to create an archive of information on this website and elsewhere related to the site and/or the project. Please e-mail us with suggestions.


An Analysis of the Downtown Plan

Some Evanston citizens asked me in the fall to provide a synopsis of the 108-page Downtown Evanston Plan now working its way through the Plan Commission. Since it's going to get a lot closer to reality in the next few months, and we now have a better website, I'm publishing an updated version here. It's a long post but closer to 7 pages, not 108.

The Plan, downloadable in segments by clicking here is somewhat technical, backloads its most critical provisions, and along the way may bog the reader down in lots of pictures and graphs. Some data and assertions required research; others required doing math. The following is a work in progress, originally written Nov., 2007. I'll probably continue to revise as we all review.

CONCLUSION: The Oct. 17, 2007 draft of the Downtown Evanston Plan is a prescription for a lot of downtown growth, and, in particular a lot more high-rise buildings (a 200-unit skyscraper each year for the next 10). It is a schizophrenic document: while presented as a means to guide growth (and actually downzoning in some spots), its zoning recommendations, if followed, are equivalent to granting an immediate, large site allowance of density and mass to much of downtown, far beyond that currently permitted, without any commensurate reciprocal public benefit. The Plan does freeze the base zoning height of the three most "traditional" areas in downtown, but it allows even those to be exceeded through "bonuses." Although the bonus structure recommended could bring better-defined public benefits than we've seen under the current unfettered planned development process, the additional "bonus" grants of height and mass would densify downtown Evanston much further still than in the past decade.

There is, however, much to like in the Plan. The move toward a form-based code is creative and will ban further sheer vertical walls; the elimination of site development allowances, which have been abused, would be welcome; the additions to public space are pleasing, and few can argue with buildings that are more sustainable. The Plan draws heavily on so-called "smart growth" concepts which offer many progressive ideas, albeit still a form of growth. I would urge anyone trying to understand this Plan to read some basic information on Smart Growth (mentioned but not described in the Plan) and its cousin, New Urbanism. Representative summaries of both concepts can be found at the Online Transport Demand Management Encyclopedia:
Smart Growth
New Urbanism

However, because of its overall tilt toward high-rise development, the Plan does not wholly integrate those ideas, and the upzoning arguably undermines them. Even "smart growth" densifies, and under the Plan, "growth" would be certain, but the "smart," less certain. Without much discussion, the Plan also quietly (sneakily?) recommends moving the Civic Center downtown.

The Plan would benefit from deeper sociological analysis. By focusing so much on form, and trying to rationalize more bigger buildings, it fails to assure a mix of uses, and is somewhat clinically detached from the soul of the town and what Evanstonians feel makes Evanston special.

ANALYSIS: Section 1 starts with a somewhat selective account of the status quo and how Evanston got here. Although many Evanstonians are dismayed with some development trends in downtown, that is suppressed here; §1 indicates little citizen dissatisfaction, only developers apparently upset with having their projects modified or denied. All that residents apparently want is more "certainty" (p.2). Section 1 congratulates everybody who made downtown what it is now.

The #1 "Major Recommendation" of the Plan is that city development policies be revised "to protect the downtown’s compact, walkable, mixed-use, and transit-oriented character," and the #2 "Major Recommendation" is that form-based code be used to "maintain the human scale and attractiveness of downtown's traditional areas." These stated goals, and their extreme forward placement, are designed to reassure residents and win broad acceptance for the Plan.

Few, too, will quarrel with the remaining six "Major Recommendations," other than the underlying assumption of continued growth. However, the zoning change recommendations conflict somewhat with the top two major recommendations.

Section 2, "Downtown Context," like §1, claims downtown Evanston "has it all" (begging the question as to why we then need more concrete, steel, bodies, and cars). The glowing report reads like a realtor's brochure. It does not mention the lack of central place for public assembly, the complete absence of live theatre, a paucity of live music, no dancing, little indoor recreation, no art museum, low-cost food venues getting replaced by pricy ones, and that if you run out of gas, you are marooned.

The description of the physical landscape and infrastructure, as solid but with some trouble spots, is more balanced, and is fair and accurate.

The contextual history is uneven. Section 2, like the rest of the Plan, adopts what has become an Official Version, in which "shopping centers" are the only historical negative impact mentioned. What is ignored? The history of Evanston as "dry" (no liquor sales); the building of the Edens; urban racial tension of the '60s and '70s; high interest rates; the S&L crisis; the "empty-nesting" of Evanston in the 80s; the general exodus of corporations from Cook County and into the collar counties nearer CEOs' homes; and the bite that catalog and then online sales took into retail. More recently, the Plan seems unaware of the restaurants, coffeehouses, and knowledge-worker influx that sparked a downtown "comeback" even before the Arthur Hill development kicked it into high gear. It almost completely ignores the Research Park and the impact of NU's growth on downtown.

Section 2 offers a useful roadmap to previous planning efforts, but somewhat shades predecessor efforts as being more pro-development than those documents really were. Example: the statement that the 2004 Downtown Visioning "updated" the 2000 Comprehensive General Plan's main goal for downtown by terming it a "mixed-use central business district that is attractive, convenient, livable, accessible, and economically vibrant." This suggests a continuing trend toward more mixed use. In fact, the 2000 Plan already stated that goal, almost identically. The real "update" in 2004 was to add "livable" and "accessible" – arguably reflecting concerns that downtown had issues there. "Mixed-use residential" in the 2004 Visioning was only one of a list of priorities including more retail space, more hotel space, more entertainment, protection of landmarks, and promotion of Evanston as a tourist destination. It was not the top priority.

Section 3 is an account of the public participation process. The Plan notes the repeated concerns about scale and height and ugly architecture (p. 16); yet all the draft goals remained unchanged (p. 17). Recent newcomers to Evanston, along with those with the most to gain from development (property owners, developers, and the design community) apparently had the most input into the process; the plan doesn't mention any focus groups for non-downtown neighborhood residents, downtown workers, shoppers, or commuters. The words "African-American," "minority," "racial," "diversity" (in a demographic context), and "gentrification" do not appear in this section (nor anywhere else in the 10/17 Plan draft). But the recognition and inclusion of students as a market force is commendable.

Section 4: Real Estate Market. The RE market study concludes that downtown should have more. More of everything. More retail, more residential, more office. Build the equivalent of Optima Views every single year for the next 10 years. "Downtown can handle it."

This section has many useful facts and is worth reading carefully. Contrary to the myth of a boom, it reveals little total downtown business growth over the past 17 years, but a large shift, from general merchandise stores to restaurants. It optimistically forecasts a solid residential growth rate and completely ignores collapse in the residential real estate market over the 18 months prior to publication, the growing credit crisis, and Evanston's current record amount of real property inventory. Apparently the Goodman firm considers Evanston immune from national, Midwest, and regional trends. Indeed, the lake and the two transit lines should help buffer Evanston from a national housing recession. However, the failure to address possible negatives is a conspicuous omission.

The market analysis for downtown likewise has intriguing but incomplete data: it says that Leading Edge Baby Boomers 55-64 are a growing cohort and represent 21% of downtown newcomers – but who are the other 79%, and what are they likely to do? It also forecasts demand growth based on 1/3 of downtown buyers relocating from within Evanston. That assumes that those relocaters can sell their existing homes, an increasingly uncertain prospect for numerous reasons (including the finances of Trailing Edge Baby Boomers), and ignores the future tax increase impact.

The facts stated, as well as some not stated (including the high number of Evanstonians who work in Evanston or from home-based businesses), suggest that downtown needs more affordable office space, and Section 4 endorses that.

The marketing study forecasts additional tax benefits from additional residential development and should be read in conjunction with Section 5, Infrastructure. As with most City planning documents, there are, apparently, no costs whatsoever associated with new residents, only revenues. Evanston is the Big Rock Candy Mountain. Never mind those murmured references to "upgrading" the infrastructure and "monitoring" the 30" water main.

The section on parking is worth reading, as it correctly demonstrates that there is already, overall, ample parking in downtown.

The meat and potatoes of the Plan are in the next 3 sections.

The Plan in §6, Master Plan, departs from its rhetoric and intriguing landscapes and starts to say what it will actually do. Pages 37-61, "Objectives and Strategies," are critical. It's important to get these right because they become the basis for further zoning discussion. If there is seeming consensus on the "objectives and strategies," then the staff and Commission, and ultimately the Council, may say they are "bound" to follow the Plan they have adopted, which makes the zoning discussions more contentious. The Plan states Six Objectives, each with strategies. Most are mom-and-apple pie things that everyone will applaud. However, once the zoning changes are added in, the net result is far more height and mass than under existing zoning.

The first two Objectives seem designed to reflect the top 2 "goals" of the plan, protecting the downtown’s character and maintaining the human scale and attractiveness of downtown's traditional areas. Yet the first Objective, which, says that we should leverage downtown's potential as a mixed-use pedestrian and transit-oriented center near NU, is titled 1. Optimize Economic Development.

What the Plan urges here is form-based code, but seems to suggest that we develop Sherman south of Davis, Davis east of Orrington, and Orrington north of Davis – the traditional areas – by making them "two-sided commercial streets" with open storefronts. Most folks would say they already are. The logic of "developing" these areas to "protect" and "maintain" them is foggy.

Note: while the Plan is generally correct as to adequate parking, the three street sections identified are the exception and are typically very difficult places to park.

The second Objective, 2."Improve Quality of Physical Environment" urges we "raise the bar" of design to "maintain human scale." This is another nod to the first two goals. Unfortunately, the "strategies" are primarily a feel-good wish list, very squishy, with few concrete steps to take except for "targeted capital improvements." The text here again urges form-based code without saying how that will maintain a human scale.

No. 3 is Sustainable Green Buildings, which is all good, except it is mainly hortatory. Many, as I do, think all new construction should be "green." Objective 4 urges a "Strong Multi-Modal Transportation System" but, similarly, the main thing concrete is concrete, mainly for cars; this does tie in to developers' desires for lower parking requirements. Objective 5 urges we "Enhance Arts & Culture" but, again, it's purely wish list rhetoric except for public art. Under this section, it does say we should relocate the Civic Center downtown (p. 40). There is little explanation here of how this fits in other than the phrase "civic and cultural opportunities"; apparently they needed somewhere to put it; text earlier argues that having the City staff downtown will help existing restaurateurs and retailers. This is probably correct. How that would impact staff productivity is a different question.

Finally, this section urges 6. "Predictable and Sensible" Development Controls. This streamlines development, reduces the number of zoning districts, apparently largely does away with use-based zoning, and lets what's been built recently dictate what will be built next. It speaks as if public benefits will be exacted for "bonuses" but omits the critical fact that the Plan recommends massive increases in base zoning height throughout large portions of downtown, i.e., an "instant bonus" for free. All the "traditional" areas could become 5 stories with bonuses. This is a prescription for making Evanston look more like downtown Oak Park.

Following the "Objectives" are a number of helpful illustrations of downtown appearance after suggested/possible redevelopment of a select number of sites. Lacking is a graphic equivalent to Fig. 2F showing what could be built. Also lacking are street-perspective views or "fly-throughs"; the illustrations are all from an "eye in the sky" POV which tends to minimize actual height.

Following the illustrated maps is a visually pleasing section (pp. 55-61) on "Public Space" which shows improved landscaping at parks, more of a "plaza" feel at Sherman and Orrington and Davis created by re-configuring the intersection, and a new "pocket park" at Maple and Grove to offset the high-rises they envision lining Grove (and shutting in the brand-new Winthrop Club development). The illustration of Fountain Square possibilities somewhat exaggerates the plaza-ness by adding "special paving" in the streets themselves. This would indeed create more of a plaza-like appearance, but pedestrians can't stand in the middle of the intersection, no matter how quaint the road surface is. Nevertheless, it could help in making Fountain Square more like Harvard Square. One wonders if the concept could be taken a step further, re-configuring the streets to create a real "square" around which traffic circulates.

The last 45 pp of the Plan are devoted to "Zoning Critique and Recommendations" (§7) and "Form-Based Zoning for Downtown" (§8).

"Zoning Critique and Recommendations" critiques the zoning adopted in 1993. The Plan asserts (without reference) that the purpose of 1993's zoning was to encourage multi-use and greater intensity and density. It does not say how long the previous zoning was in place or what changes were made in 1993, which deprives the reader of some context and rationale. It says the current rules are "often rigid, confusing, and impractical in face of real estate market trends." It claims that a 3.5 stories/42' height limit for 1/3 of downtown is "out of sync" with a vibrant, walkable downtown. There is no explanation or reference anywhere in the Plan for this somewhat counterintuitive assertion, which both contradicts the earlier statement that downtown is currently vibrant, and implies that pedestrians prefer to weave their way through tall buildings, which is not exactly what Smart Growth or New Urbanism theorize. Since retail is only on ground floors, making buildings taller doesn't make anything closer except for their residents.

The Critique says that height limit has functioned not as a limit but as starting point because of planned development allowances (i.e. site development allowances, or SDAs). Few in Evanston would quarrel, and the consultants deserve some credit for pointing this out.

The Critique wants to shift the focus of regulation from use to design. However, this does not address how the City is supposed to achieve the uses currently lacking; presumably the Invisible Hand of the Market will work its usual magic.

This section then addresses 7 aspects of current zoning with recommendations to achieve the "community's goals" for a "desirable urban form." Note that what the community "desired" is not stated. It is ignored. The 7 areas addressed are as follows:

  • Current zoning regulations. The "Findings" are that current zoning "does not reflect an "urban form" (not defined or explained); that the districts are inconsistent with downtown boundaries (because they extend beyond, easily curable in other ways); that height limits are inconsistent (true); and that design guidelines should be part of code. The "Recommendations" are that Code should define "character areas," per recommendations of the 1-week charette in July, 2007. These 3 areas are core: high density high-rise; traditional; edge (including "university link").
    They recommend abolishing the Research Park zoning district as "out of date." No explanation for this.
  • Building Height and Scale. The "Findings" and "Recommendations" here will likely provoke the most controversy. While recognizing that past decisions ignored pre-existing rules (the routine grant of SDAs has left members of the public with the perception that the current rules are meaningless (p. 63); the requirement of "public benefit" has been "loosely administered" (p. 64), the Plan's answer is, basically, to let the exception become the rule, and codify the practice of letting the previous cap be a starting point.
  • Downtown Parking Findings: Again, the Plan recommends reducing parking requirements, i.e., make it easier for developers to build condos.
  • Planned Development Review. The Plan recommends eliminating the planned development review process, which it finds has too low a threshold anyway, in favor of a "bonus review" for those seeking even higher buildings than will now be allowed as of right.
  • Development Allowances. The Plan recommends allowing additional height/density for projects that provide Gold/Platinum LEED certification, affordable housing in excess of the city's minimum, street/sidewalk improvements, tree planting, creating public parks or open spaces, historic preservation, arts and culture, underground parking, alley improvements, bike/pedestrian improvements, and day care. These are out of the "smart growth" playbook.
  • Planned Development Design Guidelines. The Plan recommends prominent ground floor windows, upper-story minimum setbacks varying by zoning classification, building out to the lot line, and concealing parking structures.

The final section, "Form Based Zoning for Downtown," finally gets to the nuts and bolts of the Plan. It sets forth the three basic types of districts (core, traditional, and edge/transitional) and, for each, states where the buildings should be, and what they should look like; parking, floor area, and use regulations. The next section then sets forth a list of "bonuses" by which the specified form can be exceeded (pp. 91-101).

The "transitional" districts on the "edge" of downtown are given a minimum "cap" of 6 stories which can increase to 8 or 10 stories (the Figures are inconsistent with the text) with public benefits; the northwest "edge" district (along Emerson) can go up to 8 stories as of right, and up to 15 with bonuses.

The "traditional" blocks are initially capped at three stories but can go up to 5 with bonuses. Floors above the third floor must be stepped back.

Most of downtown will be "core" districts." Two will have a minimum of 15, able to go up to either 18 or 30 stories with bonuses. However the Fountain Square block is considered a special core district that may go to 25 stories as of right and up to 42 stories with bonuses. Floors above the 4th floor must be stepped back, with additional stepbacks higher up (on 16th and 26th floors).

Bonuses ranging from 5% to 20% of additional floor area ratio (FAR) are then awarded for the aforesaid benefits, with more specific criteria than under current planned development rules, to provide more certainty and specific "benefit."

In the core and traditional districts, the "uses" are essentially that the first floor must not be residential. In the edge districts, the ground floor may be (i.e. a building can be entirely condo).

Overall, the Plan's zoning recommendations greatly simplify zoning. They also greatly increase the downtown core, including the entire Research Park, and as the map shows, greatly increase the amount of density that can be built as of right. The Plan ensures no more Mies boxes, and resurrects the ziggurat theory of the art deco period and the light and space required of many early tall skyscrapers. It also allows a lot more skyscrapers, period.

The following, in no particular order, are some points that jump out from the Plan.


  • The Plan states that the #1 goal is to be "livable" and the first 4 attributes stated are "attractive, convenient, livable, sustainable," but the top objective listed is titled "optimize economic development." There is a difference, as John Lamotte has noted in interviews but not in the Plan, between optimal and maximum; you don't maintain human scale by making humans look like ants. Yet the Plan endorses growth and every development "opportunity," what many would consider maximization, and does not explain how this will make downtown more livable or sustainable;
  • Objective 2, like previous plans and visioning, says we should encourage rehab and adaptive re-use, but what in the Plan does this? I couldn't find anything.
  • the Plan superficially has more controls and guidance, but in effect the Plan lets the height/mass exception become the rule, the tradeoff being a retreat from sheer vertical design;
  • the market study asserts that adding 200 units per year of additional housing supply will increase values for Evanston residents; basic supply/demand principles and actual studies of upzoning suggest the opposite. The reality is probably a mix; some land values will go up, others will drop.


  • It is yet another Plan without any end-state goal. It claims to strive toward "optimal" without saying what "optimal" is. When is population overpopulation? When is dense too dense? There is no "finding" that downtown has insufficient residents or traffic; perhaps we are already at, or past, optimal. The closest the Plan comes is the statements, as on p. 48, as to what downtown "can physically accommodate" (or "handle"). Yet asking what we can handle is not the same as asking what is optimal, and asking a different question produces a different answer.
  • The forecasted and recommended rate of growth for condo/apartment dwellers will reduce single-family homeowners in Evanston to a minority. The Plan has no discussion of the overall effect on the character of city by decreasing the relative percentage and importance of single-family homeowners; in fact, other than general applause for economic vibrancy, sociological discussion is largely absent from this urban planning document that claims Smart Growth thinking.
  • the plan largely abandons zoning as a way to guide use, without reference as to the theoretical basis for that, or how that has worked out elsewhere in practice.
  • no costs to growth are identified. None. Either locally or globally.
  • there is no mention of the carbon footprint and resource consumption of construction activity, or the costs and inconvenience to the public of downtown Evanston being under construction (at the level of 200 units per year for the next 10 years).
  • "Smart Growth" is under some criticism both from the left and the right. Eco-economists such as Bill McKibben point out that we can't grow our way to sustainability. See Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future (Times Books, 2007). Libertarians such as Randal O'Toole contend that "smart growth" and "transit oriented density" are not actually getting anyone out of their cars, just making developers and crony politicians rich off lots of private and public development while building condos for people who weren't going to be driving anyway. See
  • Objective 1 talks about incentives to retain/develop office space but there are no such incentives identified and it is not a factor in bonuses, unless I overlooked it at first reading
  • the impact on churches, such as Mt. Zion, which the Plan surrounds with dense mass
  • no mention of African-American or minority residents, Evanston's homeless, affordable housing needs, ripple effect on Evanston land values (other than to raise them), or children. Affordable housing is not discussed, it just appears as a bonus item in §8.
  • the 2000 Comprehensive General Plan emphasized adaptive reuse and maintaining and supporting existing retail a lot more than this Plan, and also said that City should use design guidelines to "to maintain and enhance the existing visual context of the area." Has this been abandoned? If not, what in this Plan encourages adaptive reuse? Nothing is apparent.


  • the assertion of a past City policy to promote downtown as a place of 24/7 activity (p. 9) is news to downtown workers, and inconsistent with the City's actual policy of forbidding parking on downtown streets in late hours, and imposing limits on when businesses can be open
  • I would like to see the backup for the assertion that the 1989 plan and 1993 downtown rezonings were designed to encourage greater height and intensity through PDs (p. 10). It is possibly true, but if so, most residents were probably unaware of this.

While this Plan tracks the laundry list of Smart Growth factors, many are only in "wish list" form. Also, the Plan offers few real means of ensuring they occur (although development will).

  • Smart Growth / New Urbanism favors small buildings, compact, and that the center of the city should be public space. The focus is on the public realm. By contrast, this Plan mainly gives us bigger buildings, and more of them. Tho it draws pictures of parks and improvements, like many of the "wish list" items in previous plans, those may (or, given our finances, may well not) occur.
  • I am unaware of any Smart Growth document urging that "urban form" is exemplified by a massive shaft as city center, or saying that the smallest block in downtown is best for the tallest building. "Livable cities" aim for a useful public space as center, and/or surround height with space.
  • A small but important issue is lack of real bicycle implementation or incentives. Smart growth says to put in bicycle routes, racks, and showers, etc. where needed. The Plan says only to accommodate bicycles where feasible. That's a big difference. Bikes seem an afterthought here.

FINAL NOTE: the devil being in the details, the entire success or failure of a cap-and-bonus plan depends on where the base zoning is set, and how the bonuses are measured and administered. I urge anyone who has made it this far and is still awake to read the excellent articles by the Austin Chronicle's Katherine Gregor. Austin, TX in 2007 went through a very similar process. Gregor does an incredible job of explaining what goes into a density-bonus program and what citizens, and cities, need to take into consideration. In particular Gregor urges NOT giving away the store in base zoning. The bonuses are a matter for public hearing by themselves.

Gregor's article (with two lengthy side boxes, including examples) on density bonus urban planning are located here:

CSNA Position on Branch Libraries


The Central Street Neighbors Association Board of Directors met January 12, 2010 and discussed the current City of Evanston budget issue.  On behalf of the members the CSNA board voted to recognize the contribution the North Branch Library has made to community life in the Central Street neighborhood since its inception.  Understanding that the role of the library is evolving and that the branch services are in many ways unique, and that this service has grown in demand with the downturn of the economy, the board unanimously supports keeping the Central Street and South Evanston branch libraries open and finding a way to extend library services to fill the unmet needs of the West side.


City Budget Planning 2009

See the presentation made 11/17/2008 at the budget workshop concerning the coming 2009 budget process. Inside are 24 fund previews including all the TIF funds and the upcoming budget planning schedule copied here below.

  • Budget meetings:
    January 10, 2009 –Saturday Morning Budget Workshop at Civic Center.
    January 24, 2009 –Saturday Morning Budget Workshop at Civic Center.
    February 2, 2009 –Budget Public Hearing.
    February 4, 2009 –Optional Budget Workshop.
    February 9, 2009 –Budget Adoption

Download and search the City of Evanston 2008-2009 Proposed Budget.

Download the .pdf file attached below to read the Capital Improvement Plan Budget projections for 2010-2014 by project and department.

Green building/sustainability

One of CSNA's core beliefs is in promoting livability and sustainability of a community. On March 9, 2007, CSNA adopted the following Position:

Green building/sustainability

CSNA favors a requirement that any new business, commercial, mixed-use, or multi-unit construction in the Neighborhood be LEEDS-certified at at least the Silver level.

Southeast Evanston Association (SEA) Statement on Proposed 708 Church Street Project

In September, 2007, the Southeast Evanston Association (SEA) presented a statement to the Plan Commission opposing the proposed 708 Church Street project. On Oct. 10, 2007, CSNA, in its statement to the Commission, axpressed general agreement with SEA's summary; therefore, it is included here. You can view or download the statement as a PDF by clicking the link below.

PDF icon SEA position - 708 Church.pdf31.22 KB

Support of Central Street Retail

On March 9, 2007, CSNA adopted the following Position:

Emphasis of Retail

CSNA favors re-zoning of the retail districts on Central Street and along Green Bay Road, north of Lincoln, that will preserve the low-rise, pedestrian-oriented, retail character of the districts. CSNA favors a requirement of at least 50’ depth for all retail, and is opposed to new mixed-use construction that utilizes the first floor for parking. CSNA would support an overlay district to accomplish these purposes.

Note: This Position was reflected in the law passed by the City Council on January 28, 2008. See Summary of Central Street Plan Zoning Ordinances.

Transparency v. Secrecy in City Decisionmaking

On March 9, 2007, CSNA adopted the following Position:

Transparency / proactive notice to neighborhood/ward

CSNA opposes secret meetings between developers and elected officials or City staff, and favors a requirement that all new developments be presented to the Neighborhood at the same time that they are presented to the City.

1620 Central St.

National-Louis University has reportedly contracted to buy and rehab the office building at 1620 Central (on the south side of the street across from Mustard's Last Stand), for use as a residential learning center for its PACE program. The PACE program provides transitional education for young adults with, primarily, mental or learning disabilities. The building would house classrooms, 50-65 students, and approximately 10 resident assistants.

National-Louis's acquisition of the property materialized in late 2007 at the point at which the zoning implementation of the Central Street Master Plan was being finalized. To facilitate the possible use, City staff modified the O1 office district in Subarea 3 that includes 1620 Central to include "dormitory" as a special use.

A number of neighbors near 1620 Central, including some CSNA members, had both procedural and substantive objections to the zoning change and proposed use of the building as a dormitory for National-Louis's PACE program. Other CSNA members favor the program and adaptive re-use at the 1620 site.

The neighbors in opposition feel that by coming in under the guise of the Central Street Master Plan at a late date in that process, the change to the very small subarea-3 O1 districts, with an eye to a specific transaction, circumvented normal procedural safeguards and is at odds with planning. These objections have some legitimacy.

On the other hand, the adoption of any Plan, and its zoning implementation, involves possibility of rezoning anything in the study area, and much is fluid during the process, including taking into account projects and proposals that may surface during that process. The Plan and its zoning implementation hearings were properly noticed, and many proceedings have been televised. Special uses being added or deleted from subareas has been in the mix throughout the planning process for a year.

There was little discussion of the addition of this special use to Subarea 3 during the final zoning discussions because Subarea 3 is very small, there was no discussion of changing the footprint of 1620 Central, we generally prefer adaptive reuse to tear-down and redevelopment, and CSNA's principal focus with respect to dormitories was in keeping such a use off the U-district stadium property (which allows 125' structures) unless subject to height restrictions consistent with other residential properties.

Designating a use as a "special use" means that any specific project or proposal will still have to have notice and hearing in the future, before the Zoning Board of Appeals, at which all parties concerned will have opportunity to be heard.

Public comment was had at both the January 14 and January 28, 2008 meetings of the Planning & Development Committee and the City Council. With the Central Street building moratorium due to expire on Feb. 9, CSNA's position was that the zoning ordinances should be passed, with or without the change to O1 in Subarea 3. I.e., we did not take a specific position on the 1620 Central project, feeling that consideration of the Plan and the overlay districts as a whole was not the point at which to debate specifics of the National-Louis proposal for 1620.

In Board discussion, we've noted that multi-family residential structures exist on Central Street both east and west of the proposed site, and that the pre-existing zoning allows, e.g., day care centers and hotels to be operated or built on 1620. We cannot say that allowing dormitory as a special use, on a site across from a major university facility, is per se inappropriate or inconsistent. However, the "overarching" argument cuts both ways, and we do respect the objection to a Plan as being driven by one seller's and one buyer's desires. Many Evanston residents are now extremely sensitive to developer-driven legislation. See our position on Transparency & Secrecy in City Decisonmaking. Also, some Council members may object to adding a special use that may result in loss of a property from the tax rolls (although north Evanston has had a large recent offset by the conversion of the Kendall College property).

There will be opportunity for further comment and debate when the application of N-L for a special use is presented. To reach consensus and avoid controversy at that juncture, we have urged that National-Louis should be, in the meantime, affirmatively talking to, listening to, and working with the neighbors to assure that concerns are addressed.

CSNA members are urged to discuss this in the Development forum of this Board.

3-29-2007 Letter on Central Street Planning

The following letter from CSNA President Jeff Smith, summarizing the fundamental Central Street planning issues from residents' perspectives, and urging community participation, was sent to local media on March 26, 2007.

The 2000 Comprehensive Plan for Evanston identified areas along Central Street as possible redevelopment sites, but urged study of the impact higher density would have on traffic, retail, home values, and quality of life in surrounding neighborhoods. Unfortunately, such study never occurred. Recent rapid land value increases have now made the Central Street neighborhood a target for redevelopment on a piecemeal basis. Without responsible limits, it’s not a question whether bulldozers and cranes will transform the area, but only how fast.

In urban ecology, a thriving district of independent retail and stroller-friendly sidewalks does not occur by accident, but requires nurturing conditions. Profitable speculation in wholesale condo construction benefits individuals, but is not necessarily best for the community, independent merchants, or Evanston as a whole. Growth is not cost-free.

The Central Street planning process now underway is better late than never. The City Council gets kudos for a construction moratorium to give planning some breathing room. Over the past 8 weeks, a few hundred citizens have participated in one or more workshops. The message to downzone, correcting obsolete zoning classifications to prevent unanticipated overdevelopment, has been consistent and clear.

Those who love Central Street, if they wish to preserve the charm of the area, are urged to attend the last public workshop 6:00 pm this Thursday, March 29, at the Civic Center. Only with the participation of an informed citizenry can we maintain a community that is liveable, walkable, shoppable, and economically vital.

Neighbors Oppose Binge Development (3-7-2007 Letter to Editor)

The following letter from CSNA President Jeff Smith, summarizing development issues arising during the controversy over the proposed mixed-use project at 1700-1722 Central, former site of the Evanston Theatre, was published in the Evanston Roundtable on March 7, 2007.

Some mistakenly feel that north Evanston residents opposed the condominium project on the old Evanston Theatre site mainly because of its size. That oversimplifies. While size matters, and this 130,0000-square-foot project, five times the normal single-use permitted, dwarfs most of Central Street, it's part of the larger problems of misuse and overzoning.

Residents objected to yet another project counter to the intended and desired use of a district. B2 districts are supposed to be for business, but only 11 percent of the space in this development was retail. Our group includes not only homeowners and consumers, but many professionals with extensive experience in real estate and development. We have serious concerns that the project will not create viable retail space. Instead, it's another large condo building sneaking in under the guise of "mixed use."

Three big "mixed-use" buildings like this sprang up on Central Street in recent years. Not one has yet brought the street-level, walk-in, independent retail that everyone agrees is key to the shopping district's vibrancy and vitality. Impractical, expensive ground-floor space gets filled with street-deadening offices. Meanwhile, speculative land values inflate existing merchants' rents. A reassessment is coming up, and I know several of our favorite Central Street stops can't absorb another increase.

Few Evanstonians oppose sustainable development in harmony with neighborhoods. But the City is indulging binge development whose long-term, cumulative effect is not well thought-out. Like many throughout Evanston, we oppose over-zoning, zoning abuse, and overgenerous "allowances" for massive overdevelopment that impacts existing homes and businesses. We believe in preserving neighborhoods for people, not exploiting them for profit. The Council should set stronger limits, and demand more real public benefit.

--Jeff Smith, President
Central Street Neighbors Association