Stadium District Proposal Conflicts with Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Standards

Monday, Nov. 13, the City Council is set to act on Northwestern University's petition for a planned development ("PD") and zoning amendment to the U2 district. That area, just north of Central Street, contains the football stadium, basketball arena, baseball field, and other facilities. NU's petition for PD was to demolish the former Dyche Stadium and erect a new, much larger facility with 35,000 "stadium" seats and skyboxes. The rezoning petition was originally to allow far greater commercial-like entertainment use of the sports facilities: initially, a request for up to 10 stadium-capacity concerts and unlimited up-to-10,000-person events annually (click the link to see the redline version of the U2 text). After multiple revisions in May and August, the request (click link to review) was modified to 6 full-capacity (35,000-seats) outdoor stadium concerts, up to 60 outdoor concerts or events of up to 7,500 attendees, and unlimited indoor concerts and events of up to 10,000 persons, including in as-yet-unbuilt banquet halls and auditoriums.

On Sept. 6, the Central Street Neighbors Association along with other groups and experts submitted materials and presented to Evanston's Land Use Commission ("LUC") that preliminarily heard the petitions. The gist of our statement was that the applications did not meet City standards for planned development and rezoning. Notably, as to the PD, there is no new parking, despite the existing 1500 spaces being far below what code requires, such that fans' vehicles flood local neighborhoods on game days and evenings.

As to the rezoning, while no one standard controls, the city Code only lists four principal standards for amendments to the zoning ordinance, namely, whether the proposed amendment (a) is consistent with the goals, objectives, and policies of the Comprehensive General Plan, (b) compatible with the overall character of existing development in the immediate vicinity, (c) will have an adverse effect on the value of adjacent properties, and (d) will not overwhelm public facilities and services. Code Ord. 6-3-4-5.

CSNA identified nearly two dozen aspects in which the proposed rezoning and PD runs counter to what the City planning directs. This is a problem typical with proposals that spring not from the community or a planning process but from the unilateral desire of the project sponsor.

After three nights of hearing over several weeks, the LUC on October 11 voted to recommend approval of the PD, but voted 7-2 against the zoning change. The LUC vote is not binding, although its reasoning should be respected by any wise Council and mayor. The proposals moved to the City Council on October 30, sidestepping the usual Planning and Development committee process, and were introduced (Evanston requiring two readings of an ordinance before adoption). The eight councilmembers voting (one member recused himself due to work for NU) deadlocked 4-4 whether even to allow the proposal to move forward, but Mayor Daniel Biss broke the tie, letting it proceed.

The preliminary vote to introduce the PD and rezoning ordinances does not mean that that is the final City action. The matter is up for "action" tomorrow evening, Monday, Nov. 13.

CSNA has not changed its position that the project and rezoning, as proposed, conflict with the General Plan and are incompatible with the residential character of surrounding districts. Click the link below to download and review a slightly updated version of the chart analysis that CSNA submitted to the LUC.

CSNA urges members, and members of the community, to be active citizens in letting the Council and the mayor know your thoughts on this project, which undoubtedly would have lasting impact on Evanston and in particular on north Evanston. -- Jeff Smith