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.