Decision Awaits on Controversial Sale of Library Parking Lot

Evanston Sale of Library Parking Lot

Evanston City Council voted to table the decision regarding a major office building development until March 18, or the next meeting in which full Council is present. The site, at 1714-1720 Chicago Ave., between Church and Clark Streets, currently functions as a parking lot for the main branch of the Evanston library.

The proposed 11-story office building—reduced from its initial 13 stories—would cover most of the 26,750-square foot lot. As the property is in a residential district, Council would first need to re-zone it as a downtown core development district, and secondarily grant a special use permit with allowances for the remaining noncompliant features.

Even the 6-3 vote to hold the agenda item was contentious. After Ald. Wilson expressed frustration about Ald. Rainey’s seconding a motion that ended debate, Rainey turned the table and argued it was Wilson and a lack of transparency that hindered Council discussion. Alds. Wilson, Suffredin and Wynne voted against tabling the vote.

Watch Public Comment and Council Discussion.

Opposition from Committees & Neighboring Property Owners

Both residents and the City’s planning and design review committees advised against the development’s approval, in part citing concerns regarding pedestrian safety, traffic issues and loss of 200+ public parking spaces.

In a memo to Council, lead staff from planning and zoning, community development and preservation outlined seven areas where the project didn’t satisfy even D3 zoning standards, also cautioning the project would not conform with adjacent landmarked buildings. Immediately surrounding properties include the public library to the west, residential buildings to the east and west, and of several historic buildings to the north and south, including the Francis Willard House and Women’s Club of Evanston.

A petition by adjacent property owners opposing the zoning amendment triggered a heightened requisite of at least 3/4 favorable votes from Council for the project to move forward. Neighbors and other residents spoke out during public comment about adverse effects similar to those referenced by staff and committee. In part because Council was limited in its debate, there were no comments in favor for the project.

Loss of Public Parking

Even with D3 downtown parking exemptions and reductions, the building’s size would require a minimum of 278 off-street parking spaces, 75 of which would be retained for public use.

The plan, as proposed, would replace the required employee parking spaces with parking for up to 50 bicycles, and an offer to lease the 203 employee spaces in off-site City parking garages for up to five years.

The proposal does retain 74 of the 75 public parking spaces required under the City agreement, plus two additional compact spaces. However, critics fear the lack of on-site parking would result in those public spaces being utilized by office staff, with garage spaces also reduced to the public.

Compromised Traffic

City staff reported issues with compromised traffic in the adjacent alley, which would provide access to the office’s loading dock. The applicant, an architecture firm, proposed the City vacate a 321-sq. ft portion of the alley to extend the building and property line farther south, which would further constrict vehicular movements around the bend in the alley.

The alley is currently used by library pedestrians and vehicles accessing the parking garage. To compensate, the applicant proposed to make more room by removing a mature tree and a portion of sidewalk between the alley parking and library entrance.

“The site layout causes concern with regards to both safety and continuity of a pedestrian and walkable experience. There is a lack of active uses on the ground floor and in the base of the building and the proposed location of the building within the existing public alley creates potential conflicts for loading operations at the proposed and adjacent buildings

…Vehicular access will be from the alley just west of the property. A loading bay is located at the rear of the building with access from the alley. The garage entrance is toward the southern portion of the building with cars entering facing east, while the loading and refuse area will be located at the northern end of the building with vehicles entering from the south via Church Street.” — Staff Memo to Council

Zoning Compliance

The map amendment reclassifying the property from R6 residential to D3 downtown core development district would still leave seven areas of unresolved noncompliance that would need to be addressed via a special use permit and/or other allowances:

  1. 76 parking spaces + 2 compact stalls (D3 minimum is 203 + purchase-sale agreement to replace the 74 library parking spaces onsite, where compact stalls are not allowed)
  2. Building height of 110′ 8″ to roof (excluding eligible parking levels) (D3 maximum is 85′ to roof)
  3. Front yard setback of 25′ (D3 minimum is 31.4′)
  4. North- and south-side setbacks of 5′ each (D3 minimum is 15′ each). Women’s Club to the South is a national registered landmark. Frances Willard Museum Campus to the north is designated as a local historic district.
  5. Canopy yard obstruction of 9.7′ into required front yard (D3 maximum is 3.1/10%)
  6. Floor Allowance Ratio of 4.8 (D3 maximum is 4.5)

Neighboring Properties

  • To the west Evanston Public Library and Northwestern University’s residential McManus Center building
  • To the east Evanston Place Apartment Building and Church Street Parking Garage.
  • To the south Woman’s Club of Evanston, a city and national historic landmark built in 1912
  • To the north Frances Willard House, a city and national landmark built in 1865, and its designated historic district, which four additional historic buildings

Project History

September 25, 2017 Council approved the sale of the City-owned library lot at 1714-1720 Chicago Ave. to Chicago Avenue Partners, LLC, reducing sale price from $5 million to $4 million. Sale agreement is executed Oct. 26, 2017.

July 11, 2018 DAPR reviewed the development and requested a vehicular study, and information regarding the proposed project’s scale adjacent to landmark buildings, number of site development allowances, and inclusion of public benefits. Applicant, Paul Janicki Architects, Inc., requested that the item be held until the information was gathered.

July 24, 2018 City and applicant amend agreement to extend commission approval period.

November 14, 2018 DAPR recommended denial citing concerns with vehicular turning movements in the alley, pedestrian safety, lack of on-site public parking, scale of the development adjacent to landmark buildings, the number of site development allowances and lack of public benefits provided, among other items.

December 12, 2019 The Plan Commission’s public hearing heard testimony from applicant and general public. At the request of a property owner within 1000 feet, the hearing was continued to January 9, 2019.

January 9, 2019 Plan Commission recommended denial (4-1) of the proposed development.

January 28, 2019 Planning and Development Committee held the request in Committee.

February 11, 2019 Applicant presented renderings of a revised 11-story development. Planning and Development Committee and City Council introduced the initial version of Ordinance 4-O-19.

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