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Something about the night felt off. Missing from the dais were former Second Ward alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, now a Cook County Judge, and Seventh Ward Alderman Jane Grover, in Washington, D.C., for a League of Cities conference. Perhaps that contributed to the atmosphere. Or perhaps the destruction in Japan filtered through. Regardless, business was accomplished.
The March 14 evening started with two celebrations – actually three, given that one was duplicated. First (and third) came the swearing in of new Second Ward Alderman Peter Brathwaite, appointed by Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl to complete the unexpired term of Judge Jean-Baptiste. City Council started earlier than usual because of a one-item Planning and Development agenda. Thus the swearing-in took place before Mr. Brathwaite’s family and Judge Jean-Baptiste had arrived. When the VIPs arrived, the Mayor swore in Mr. Brathwaite again.
The Mayor did not ask Mr. Braithwaite to recite the cumbersome “Athenian Oath of Citizenship” a second time.
In between the swearings-in, the Chiefs of Police and Fire accepted a donation from Mr. and Mrs. Linhaz Lakhani, owners of the Evanston Shell on Oakton near McCormick, for the Evanston Police and Fire Department Foundation. When the Shell station opened in January, 2010, the Lakhanis donated $5,000 to the police and firefighters pension fund. One year later, they did it again. Mayor Tisdahl called their gift an example of “the kind of community spirit we need.” City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the donation was the first received by the newly formed foundation.
Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons and Director of Public Works Suzette Robinson both delivered reports on the City’s response to the February blizzard. Ms. Robinson’s report, delivered to the Administration and Public Works committee, focused on the employees and their efforts to clear the streets. Each employee received a City gym bag, emblazoned with “Evanston Snow Fighter,” as a token of appreciation. “On behalf of the City, thank you very much,” said Mayor Tisdahl.
Mr. Lyons, speaking to the full Council, focused on the cost of the blizzard. According to his presentation, the cost was between $500,000 and $600,000. He put the cost in perspective comparing the overall snow removal cost for the full year to the previous two years, however. The 2008-09 season stands out – that year 58.6 inches of snow fell and the City paid about $1.458 million to remove it. In 2009-10, 48.5 inches fell and cost less than $780,000 to remove. This year, though perhaps not yet concluded, 58.2 inches have fallen at a cost of about $928,000 to remove. All bills have not come due, Mr. Lyons said, but the total cost will be less than a million.
Council took the next step in the City’s quest to reopen a Yellow Line stop in Evanston. Council authorized a grant application for a phase one environmental study. The study will follow an engineering feasibility study that is already underway. The environmental study will cost the City $2.13 million, but $1.74 million is expected to come from a Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ) grant. The remainder will be funded by General Obligation debt. The location of the station, on Asbury, Ridge or Dodge, has not been determined. Nor has a timeline.
More wine tastings and beer may be on the way. Council introduced an ordinance that would allow shops to charge for wine tastings and was suggested by the owner of Vinic Wine Shop on Chicago just south of Davis. The ordinance complies with state law and also allows the shop to sell warm (not refrigerated) beer.
A new Shrimp Max restaurant is coming to Emerson between Ashland and Dewey. The restaurant will be the third Shrimp Max in the Chicago area following a location in Bollingbrook that has been open about three years and a newly opened location in Hammond, according to Shrimp Max Evanston manager Tim McNeally. The restaurant specializes in fried shrimp cooked in vegetable oil, shrimp “as big as silver dollars!” added Mr. McNeally. He hopes to be open by mid-April. Council paved the way by introducing the restaurant, then suspending the rules requiring a second reading and voting immediately to approve the application. “We are so excited to have a new business in the Fifth ward,” said Fifth Ward Alderman Delores Holmes.
The Kendall College site once again sparked controversy, and once again stayed at Council without a vote. Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, initially moved to take the matter “off the table” for discussion and vote. City Attorney Grant Farrar suggested otherwise, citing a letter threatening a lawsuit against the City sent by an attorney for the developer Smithfield. The central issue remains a 51-inch-diameter oak tree that sits right smack in the middle of a proposed alley. A compromise seemed near when the developer agreed to the City’s proposal for a dead end alley that stopped at the tree. But ownership of the strip of land that would have been the alley had it not continued stymied the parties.
Ald. Rainey asked why ownership would be an issue, and Mr. Farrar declined to answer saying that because potential litigation was involved he would only answer in executive session and out of the public eye. Ald. Rainey then proposed that Council immediately retire into executive session to hear Mr. Farrar’s answer. Alderman Judy Fiske, in whose First Ward the property sits, then proposed putting the matter off for another two weeks. Engineering issues and not just the tree were at issue, she said. “I don’t care what happens to this property any more,” said an exasperated Ald. Rainey. Whatever happens will have to wait at least two more weeks as the matter remains tabled.
Council approved the expenditure of over $40,000 to improve the façades of five private businesses – the Piccolo Theatre, EGEA Spa, the Varsity Theater building, 1715 Church lofts and Converged Communications on Central. During citizen comment, Kevin O’Connor noted that the City spent on façades while allowing the South Branch Library, which would have cost about $57,000 to keep open, to close.
The Tree Ordinance passed by the Human Services was introduced without discussion by City Council. The proposed ordinance contains five revisions from the ordinance initially introduced on Jan. 24. The measure will be up for debate in two weeks.
Finally, Council approved three committees nominated by Mayor Tisdahl to study three areas of the City. The Lakefront Committee will examine whether or not to pursue a marina or other development along Evanston’s lakefront. The West Oakton Development Committee will study the Recycling Center and Animal Shelter property. The 21-person Mayor’s Wind Farm Committee will analyze the two proposals to place windmills in Lake Michigan. Ald. Fiske objected to the Mayor’s appointment process, saying that a number of qualified residents who applied to be on the committee were denied. “Everyone is welcome to observe,” said Mayor Tisdahl.