EVANSTON — The May 28 Evanston City Council work session began with a presentation by Julie O’Connell representing Evanston Main Street and Urban Renewal Agency. O’Connell had recently attended the 2019 National Main Street Conference in Seattle and came to share what she had learned at the conference.
“We were able to visit four small communities two hours east of Seattle where we saw evidence of economic vitality and ways to revitalize and strengthen a downtown,” O’Connell said.
She gave an overview of the four communities and specifics on methods each had used to build economic vitality. All four cities had built strong partnerships with their city councils and with other local organizations. All communities had a high level of support for rehabilitation of old and dilapidated buildings; some implemented special promotional events; one “green” community banned all plastic and Styrofoam; others banned big-box stores and neon signs; designated walking paths and landmarks; and used paint on streets to extend gathering spots.
O’Connell showed examples of action plans and possibilities for Evanston. She suggested starting with small projects such as painting cross walks at the intersection of 10th and Main and hanging café lights across Main Street from Harrison Blvd. to 9th Street to encourage people to linger and shop in the downtown area.
“I came away from the conference excited and seeing all kinds of possibilities for Evanston,” O’Connell said. “How can we make our community green? Ana’s on Main has already gone to paper straws and compostable containers. How can we make downtown more walkable and light it up?”
Brian Davis of Home Décor, who is on the Main Street committee, said, “Malls are dying, there hasn’t been a new one built in 10 years. Downtowns are reviving and we constantly hear from out-of-town customers how much they love our Main Street and downtown.”
The mayor and council thanked the members of the Urban Renewal Agency attending and O’Connell for her presentation.
The next item on the agenda was proposed amendments to Zoning Ordinance 19-05, which includes a definition of “office.”
The proposed amendments to the ordinance were brought to the previous council meeting. There has been much discussion and controversy over the definition of office and the question of allowing those businesses that meet that definition to be “permitted by right” and not have to go through the conditional use permit process.
Downtown business owner Brenda Richins, of Varsity Ink, said, “There are already too many offices in the downtown that are locked up and aren’t open for foot traffic. I am opposed to the permit by right for offices as it is not good for retail business. They still have the option of a conditional use permit to put an office downtown.”
Councilman Mike Sellers said, “I only worry about the impact on other businesses if an office is never open.”
Davis said, “Thriving downtowns have restaurants, entertainment, a sprinkle of retail and a few offices.”
Another local businessman, Clarence Vranish, said, “Business begets business. You have to have a balance.”
Dave Anderson of Superior Rental and the Gun Room spoke up, saying, “I have the opportunity every day to see the Interstate 80 traffic that goes by Evanston and I think we need pop-up stores to draw them in.”
Mark Anderson of Superior Rental, who is also a county commissioner, said, “We need a four-year college in Evanston. We don’t want the downtown to turn out like Bear River Drive.”
The proposed amendment concerning transfer of a conditional use permit when the business remains the same but only changes owners was then brought up.
Fred Coles of Wasatch Engineering said, “I’m not opposed to offices, but I like the idea of the transferability ordinance the best.”
Councilman Tib Ottley said, “I think the transferability amendment will take care of what we need. I’m in favor of that.”