Downtown Plan

This is an open letter sent to the Evanston City Council this morning. Jeanne Lindwall
Tomorrow night (Feb. 9th) you are scheduled to vote on adoption of the new downtown plan. As you probably know, I have followed the planning process closely from the initial presentation to the public, through the charrette led by the consultant team and the Plan Commission’s refinement of the draft plan.
As an urban planner, I obviously believe in the value of planning, and respect the give and take that is needed to establish consensus around a common vision for the future. As our elected representatives, the City Council gets to have the final say on land use and development policy for the City. And, it is important for your constituents to understand where you all stand on whether there should be a central core, and if so its appropriate height and density.
We all now know that the majority of aldermen believe that 35 stories is the appropriate maximum height, but I don’t have a clear sense as to what that means in terms of density – are we talking tall slender tower or a solid block of building? There are several other unanswered questions that I hope will be addressed before a final vote is taken concerning the reasons why each of you feels the way that you do.

  1. Are you voting to allow a 35-story building for aesthetic reasons? Do you think that we need a really tall building to enhance our skyline? Do you think that the property values in the surrounding neighborhoods and historic districts will be enhanced by the new view?
  1. Do you favor allowing a 35-story building because it will have a more positive impact on the property tax base than a building that is 25 stories? Again, it would be helpful to understand what type of building you envision – condo, rental, office or a combination of uses. How many additional square feet do you think should be included in the extra ten floors?  From all of the research that I have done on downtown property tax generation, it is clear that property tax revenues depend much more on use than on density – and that new condos won’t produce as much property tax revenue as a new office building would. What is the financial goal here?
  1. My final question has to do with the rationale behind effectively telling three property owners that their property is more valuable than any other property in the downtown because of the extra base height and maximum heights allowed. During the 708 Church Street discussion, there seemed to be a strong desire to see the Hahn Building preserved. Making the property more valuable as a development site doesn’t seem like a particularly good way to accomplish this aim. It may put the current owners in a better bargaining position with potential developers who will then need to maximize density to make the deal work. Again, the question becomes who are you trying to benefit?

If it were up to me (which it clearly is not), I would have limited building heights on the Fountain Square Block to between 8 to 15 stories and done everything possible to ensure that incentives were available to get a developer to build a new office building rather than more condos. The Plan Commission spent considerable time debating the future of the Fountain Square block and managed to secure a majority vote on including the Fountain Square block in the Core district and not to create a higher central core. I understand and accept the Plan Commission’s decision, and urge you to do the same.
Jeanne Kamps Lindwall
Evanston Resident and
Candidate for Mayor