First Ward Alderman Judy Fiske and City officials met with ward residents and other community members on June 5 to discuss two looming development projects, among other matters, as well as briefly discuss the tenuous fate of the Harley Clarke mansion.
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz opened the meeting with a summation of the priority-budget survey, which had been scheduled to close at the end of May. That deadline had been extended to early June, so officials could solicit last-minute participation from attendees of June ward meetings.
City officials flagged and ranked a number of issues in the budget, and residents were asked to rank them as well, Mr. Bobkiewicz said. Among the issues that probably would be addressed would be the City’s mental health services, the number of commissions and boards at the City-government level and the arrangement with Divvy bikes.
Mr. Bobkiewicz reminded the audience, however, that this is only the first such survey, and that another would be conducted in September.
“We asked folks to think about this, to think about what is important to them,” he added. “This is not the end of the process.”
Much discussion focused on a proposed rental development at 1621-31 Chicago Ave. City Development Director Johanna Leonard emphasized that developers had not even submitted a development plan for the site. Instead, information at the meeting was being garnered from a zoning analysis, which is effectively the first step in the zoning process.
A number of elements suggested that the project would need a significant number of variances. Ms. Leonard remarked that plans this early in the planning process “almost always come up non-compliant at first.”
The building proposed, in this incarnation, would have about 156 units and be about 145 feet high. Developers would pay a fee of about $1.6 million in lieu of providing affordable housing units within the building itself.
Officials also discussed an 11-story addition to a Housing Authority of Cook County property at 1900 Sherman Ave. They emphasized that this property too was in the “concept stage.”
The addition would be erected over an existing parking lot. Eight floors of the building would contain about 10 rental units, each at about 600-900 square feet.
Some audience members were skeptical about the design of the facility, and wondered why it was being kept completely separate from the existing building on the site. Officials answered that the two buildings were coming from two different funding sources.
Residents of the area expressed concern about the possibility of flooding on the site. One audience member said, “When the rain starts coming down, there’s going to be nowhere for the water to go.”
Housing and Grants Administrator Sarah Flax countered, however, that, “There will be very, very rigorous assessment of water flow.”
The June 5 meeting came as many Evanstonians worried about the fate of the Harley Clarke mansion; several constituents wanted to raise the issue during the meeting, and some circulated a petition among audience members to save the structure from a potential demolition.
Ald. Fiske was reluctant to discuss the issue, at first wishing to relegate it to the meeting’s closing question-and-answer session. But as the meeting went on, and constitutents focused on logistics of the main development topics, the chances of a substantial question-and-answer session became less likely; audience members asked for a subsequent emergency meeting about the newly proposed removal of the mansion and restoration of the dunes, an issue scheduled to be raised at the Council’s June 18 meeting.
Ald. Fiske said she knew little about the new proposal beyond what principals had proposed on their website and “looked forward to hearing about it” at the June 18 meeting.
Audience members were concerned that the demolition of the mansion would come in fairly short order after the June 18 meeting, and questioned whether the new plan would get the same level of vetting that the prior Harley Clarke proposal, voted down by the Council, had.
“We’ve had our email boxes flooded,” Ald. Fiske said. “The Lakehouse proposal was voted down. … This has been a very difficult discussion to have, because the Council has to sort through what’s in the best interests of the City of Evanston—the taxpayers of Evanston—and we looked at the lease that was negotiated, that was put forth to the City, and it was not acceptable to the aldermen. There was too much risk involved.”
She added that she was not advocating for one position or another, but said that a great deal of misinformation was being spread about the matter. An audience member said that the issue should be on a referendum for citizens to decide.
After Ald. Fiske was challenged further on the matter, she said, “I haven’t even heard the proposal. I would never tell you I was going to vote against something when I haven’t heard the proposal.