What appeared on the surface to be an unusually light City Council agenda on Jan. 26 quickly proved to be otherwise. One by one, aldermen removed items from the consent agenda and added them to the list of items for debate. The reasons were far-ranging: budget concerns, protests against liquor sales, the cost of affordable housing, and others. In the end, fees for pavement degradation, the lakefront plan engineering, and the West Evanston overlay passed, but the zoning change needed for a new wine shop on Davis Street failed, and the attempt to increase rooming house license fees was tabled indefinitely.
Crowds filled the Planning and Development committee meeting room and lined up to speak about the proposed fine wine and liquor store at 812 Davis St. Several residents spoke out against selling liquor in the area, but area resident Ellen Brown seemed to get the Council’s attention when she spoke about a serious trust issue that developed as the result of at least two “stop work” orders that had already appeared at the site. Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, noted, “The cease-work orders [result in] a loss of credibility for me, especially when you’re already a business owner in Evanston.” Alderman Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward, agreed, citing the “prior acts of an applicant who has numerous other liquor stores … and should know better.” The applicant’s lawyer and planning expert were unable to overcome the citizens’ objections and their client’s credibility gap, and City Council ultimately overruled the Zoning Board of Appeals and denied the applicant’s request for a special use permit.
A proposal to fund engineering services for the lakefront bicycle and pedestrian path between Lee and Clark Street beaches, been held in Council on Jan. 12 at the request of Alderman Edmund Moran Jr., 6th Ward, was resurrected on Jan. 26. Ald. Moran again objected to the proposal, saying it was an integrated piece of a larger and more complicated plan and that he was not convinced it would work or how much it will cost. “Even the designers are not sure how it will work,” he said. The resolution passed 8-1, with Ald Moran casting the lone “No” vote.
As if to underscore and highlight Ald. Moran’s point, the City’s bills included nearly $39,000 for a 50 percent payment toward the preparation of construction documents (and not for any construction costs) for the Clark Street Beach restroom and Dempster Street boat-storage projects. The expenditure moved Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, to note during the Administration and Public Works Committee meeting, “People are losing their jobs and their homes, and we’re spending half a million on washrooms. It just doesn’t feel right.”
An ordinance to raise rooming-house fees from $26 to $36 per roomer also ran into opposition. Bill Geiger, president and CEO of the McGaw YMCA, speaking on behalf of his organization and its 172 roomer residents, urged the Council to reject the increase and proposed instead that higher penalties for violators would be a better way to raise funds. The Council, led by Alds. Moran and Bernstein, agreed with Mr. Geiger and tabled the ordinance indefinitely so that increased fees for violations could be added to the ordinance.
The City’s efforts to help provide affordable housing returned as providers sought marketing funds and sales incentives to help complete sales of three affordable housing units. Council agreed to provide the funds and incentives, but only after Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, added an amendment requiring that invoices for marketing and sales costs be presented before any of the allocated funds could be released. The stated goal: complete sales of these units by June 30, 2009.
A request to extend the time to complete a planned development on the former Kendall College site encountered opposition led by Judy Fiske, a candidate for First Ward Alderman, centered upon alleged dangerous site conditions. The Council accepted the explanation of the developer’s attorney that the site conditions were already covered by an existing ordinance and voted to grant the extension.
Even an ordinance permitting the “Now We’re Cookin’” demonstrations to continue at the Farmer’s Market could not pass without controversy. Ald. Bernstein argued that a business should not be named in the ordinance. Once amended to replace “Now We’re Cookin’” with the generic phrasing “cooking demonstrations,” the ordinance passed without opposition.
A new ordinance adding a “Pavement Degradation Fee” to any excavation into paved streets was praised as a good idea before passing unanimously. The ordinance replaces a flat $150 right-of-way fee with a fee based upon the number of years since the street was last resurfaced. Additionally, except in emergencies, excavation is no longer permitted in streets that have been resurfaced within the last three years.