At its meeting June 20, 2012, the Evanston Plan Commission voted 3-2 to recommend a zoning map amendment that would change a single family residential property at 2635 Crawford Avenue to business (B1a) zoning. The Commission also recommended ending the ban on new drive-through facilities in the Northwest corner of the Central, Crawford and Gross Point business district. The proposal now moves to the City Council’s Planning and Development Committee, which is expected to take up the matter at its meeting Monday July 23, 2012.
If approved by the City Council, the proposed rezoning would mark a major change in zoning policy and set a precedent for future expansion of business districts into residential areas.
In the past, residential property in Evanston has almost never been rezoned for business use. City staff could only identify one other time residential property has been changed to business in Evanston, which involved property near Main and Dodge rezoned about 15 years ago to allow construction of a Walgreens store at that corner.
The house at 2635 Crawford (just northwest of Gross Point) was bought a few years ago by a local speculator. He had the house demolished soon after buying it, and has since been offering the vacant lot for sale for about twice the price he paid, while suggesting that it could be rezoned. The current listing price for the vacant lot is $700,000.
The application for zoning changes was filed by Edgemark Development, LLC, a Colorado based company that bought the vacant CITGO station at 2628 Gross Point last year. Edgemark, along with Chase Bank, wants to combine the CITGO lot with the alley and the residential property next to it and build a large Chase Bank building with a multi-lane drive-through. The current proposal has the bank's drive through teller lanes on the existing residential property and would place the 24 hour ATM lane less than 9 feet from a neighbor's window.
Many of the nearby residents (this writer included) are opposing the proposed zoning changes, saying that the alley has served as an effective buffer between the business and residential districts for over 80 years and should stay that way. The current zoning map has been in place at least since the 1920’s and was reaffirmed in 2008 with the passage of the Central Street Master Plan.
Like much of the Central Street area, this neighborhood has a residential area that abuts a business district, separated only by an alley. Since the business land is more valuable than the residential, the last house in the residential area tends to make a tempting target for developers. There have been other attempts over the years to rezone residential properties around this intersection, always rejected by the City Council.
Many of us who live in this neighborhood believe this case could set a number of dangerous precedents.
1. If the City Council were to approve the zoning amendments, it would send a message that residential property near a business district is fair game for rezoning. That could lead to business encroaching into residential neighborhoods all over Evanston.
2. City staff has recommended rezoning the residential property at 2635 Crawford on the grounds that it is vacant. If City Council accepts the proposal, it would let future speculators know that all they have to do is buy a house and tear it down to get it rezoned.
3. The poor condition of the former CITGO station, which is owned by the developer, has been cited as a reason to approve the proposal. That lets developers know that if they fail to maintain their property they are likely to be rewarded with rezoning.
At the Plan Commission Hearing on June 20, Edgemark principal Richard Sapkin testified that he had received numerous offers for the former gas station at 2628 Gross Point, contradicting his company’s claim that the CITGO lot cannot be developed without rezoning the neighboring single family residential property.
Many of the nearby residents would like to see a new business in the old CITGO lot without rezoning any residential property. We believe the unnecessary expansion into the residential area to create a 25,000 square foot development would be incompatible with the character of the longstanding residential neighborhood.
This is a very local issue with implications for all of Evanston.I ask all concerned Evanston residents to call or write their aldermen and urge them to oppose rezoning property in residential neighborhoods for business use.