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Hope for a new Robert Crown Center to be built and paid for by third parties took another step forward with Council authorizing an environmental site study and a marketing and feasibility study. The environmental study will focus on the soil for both contamination and soil compaction. Director of Parks Doug Gaynor said the site was once a marshy dump and as such some contaminants might be found in the soil, in which case a Phase II study, which determines cleanup requirements, might be necessary. Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said the site was more swamp than dump. Regardless, the environmental and geotechnical engineering study, at a cost of about $7,500, will inform the City what needs to be done in order to build a new Crown Center – both cleanup and steps that need to be taken to prevent soil shifting under a new structure (a problem that has plagued the current Crown Center).

The marketing feasibility study will be considerably more expensive at $49,500. Its purpose is to validate the financial strategy behind the project.

Mr. Gaynor said the City wanted these studies complete prior to issuing the request for proposals to the three entities pre-approved under the request for qualifications process last year. An independent third-party analysis is required, he said.

The City updated Council on the progress of the NSP2 (Neighborhood Stabilization Program, second phase) program under which the City was awarded $18.5 million in federal funds to purchase and rehabilitate housing stock in Evanston as well as create a new mixed-use development, Emerson Square, in West Evanston. According to Jolene Saul, the City’s NSP2 administrator, the City has purchased 37 buildings with 57 total units. Rehabilitation has begun and the first units will be available this summer. Units will continue to come online through 2013, at which point the funding expires. The City has spent about $4.2 million to date with $3.3 million on acquisition and the rest on administrative and other costs.

“It was a good night for Evanston trees,” said Ald. Fiske. She spoke about three separate items all of which preserved trees.

First, Council voted to expand the elm tree injection program, a program that has proven remarkably effective in preventing the loss of elm trees to Dutch Elm disease. Faced with four different options for expanding the program, the council chose the most aggressive option – injecting all additional trees this year. The most aggressive is also the most expensive, resulting in opposition from Alderman Collen Burrus, 9th Ward; Delores Holmes, 5th Ward; and City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz. “I like trees, but I love people more,” said Ald. Burrus.

She emphasized that she was in favor of the program, but said the City simply could not afford it. Ald. Holmes and Mr. Bobkiewicz favored an option that would spread the cost over four years but they could get no further support. The measure passed 7-2.

Second, the Kendall College site subdivision passed after a compromise was reached that will preserve the 200-plus-year-old oak tree that sits right in the middle of one of the proposed alleys. The alley will now dead-end just short of the tree. If and when the tree dies, the alley will be extended to the street. The compromise was not good enough for some residents, who protested the loss of even a single tree on the site, but it passed Council 9-0.

Finally, the Evanston Tree Preservation Ordinance passed without debate. The ordinance protects private trees located on plots larger than two acres slated for subdivision and all private trees in planned developments. All trees on public property are protected. Protected trees may only be removed provided specific conditions are met.

Evanston’s special events calendar passed but not without what counted as controversy on this night. Ald. Burrus protested the preference given to returning events over new events on the lakefront. The preference, City policy for years according to Mr. Gaynor, “seem extremely unfair,” said Ald. Burrus. Ald. Holmes proposed expanding the number and days allowed for special events, now limited to 12 lakefront events a year. Ald. Burrus “wholeheartedly agree[d].” Look for the Council to reevaluate this policy in the coming weeks.

As a final bit of muted controversy, the color of newly purchased recycling bins to be placed on City streets threatened to derail their funding. Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, objected to a bright blue lid on bins on City streets. Staff did not have a sample and could not produce a photograph of the blue version. Mr. Bobkiewicz assured Council that the color could be changed after funding had been allocated but a deadline required the funding decision during the current meeting. A reluctant Council appropriated funds and now waits to see the bins, blue or green or some other more palatable hue, when they arrive.