With spring finally in the air – this time probably for real – City Council seemed in a hurry to dispense with the sparse agenda before it and get outside to enjoy the warming evening air. With only two items sparking any significant discussion, they were able to make their perceived hope a reality.
One item, a price reduction for City owned property being sold to AMLI Development at Chicago Avenue and Kedzie Street, sailed through without serious opposition. The second, concerning health inspection fees charged to vendors selling food at Evanston’s farmers’ markets, was essentially put off for two weeks.
A contract for summer lunches to be provided to children at Evanston park facilities passed easily. The cost, $2.32 per lunch to Open Kitchens, Inc., will be reimbursed by the federal government at $3.23 per lunch covering both the food service and an administrative cost. Parking lot repair contracts for both the Chicago Avenue lot just south of Dempster and the Sherman Plaza garage also passed easily.
A little-used computer lab in the Main Branch of the Public Library will be leased to Workforce Board to be used by anyone in the area looking for work. The space will also be used for training in job search and resume writing. Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she had not known the lab existed and had allocated CDBG funds for similar computer labs in the past. She said she would have sent applicants to the Library instead had she known.
The lease will net the Library $17,400 a year. Another lease, to Foundation65, will provide an additional $5,000 per year.
The AMLI development at Chicago and Kedzie sought a reduction in the proposed sale price for a City-owned parking lot previously used by the car dealerships there. The contract price, $900,000, was based on a 2007 appraisal. A more recent appraisal put the property value at $770,085. While it was not clear why the City and AMLI did not close the deal in 2008 when the project was approved, the City readily agreed to the lower sale price.
Ald. Rainey cited the fact that the neighborhood actually wanted this project to go forward. A downturn in real estate values prompted the request. Dennis Marino, Community Development, said the 15 percent reduction in value was in line with the loss of value across the City, though, with the caveat that values depend on location.
Steve Ross, executive vice president of development for AMLI, said the project was moving forward. AMLI has already purchased the building that formerly housed the Salvation Army and other businesses, having closed the deal within the last two weeks, he reported. He expects a formal submission of plans for review within “three or four weeks,” and hopes the project will begin construction before the end of the year.
The Planning and Development Committee may have set a modern record with a meeting that lasted just four minutes. In that four minute span, the Committee approved three new sidewalk cafes: Royin Sushi Bar on Central Street, Casteel Coffee also on Central Street, and Other Brother Coffeehouse on Sherman Avenue.
At the Council meeting itself, the only item taken off the consent agenda was the farmers’ market ordinance. While the ordinance does not establish or require health inspection fees, those fees were the issue raised by Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward. Several vendors will stop going to the Wednesday Ridgeville Park market if the fees remain in place, she said, effectively shutting that market down.
“These fees are a serious problem for our vendors,” she said. [The fees are about $225 for a full year, graduated to $103 if a vendor attends fewer markets.]
Ald. Rainey pointed out that the market actually takes place and is staged by a separate governing entity, the Ridgeville Park District. She suggested an amendment exempting markets on property owned by separate governments from the fees.
City manager Wally Bobkiewicz said that the clear direction given by the Human Services Committee was that the fees are necessary to cover the costs of health inspections and should remain.
“The Health Department depends on the revenue” generated by these fees, he said. “What do you get for the $225 annual fee?” asked Ald. Rainey. There was no representative from the Health Department to explain the services paid for by the fee, though City Manager Wally Bobkeiwicz said that generally the fee went toward the cost of inspection of prepared food sold at markets and how it is “presented to the community” and “stored.”
Council reached no resolution on the fee issue. Expect a livelier discussion in two weeks. The new ordinance, with relatively minor tweaks to the existing farmers’ market ordinance, was introduced unanimously.