A long and controversy-filled agenda sat before City Council Monday night, Sept. 26. Testy and tired aldermen were the result, but an altered development on Central Street was approved, a compromise of sorts issued on an Office Depot sign, and several other matters addressed before Council adjourned in the early morning of Sept. 27.

Evanston Theater Site

The former site of the Evanston Theater, 1700-1722, was approved four years ago as a mixed-use development of 51 condominiums with retail space on the ground floor. Since the economic downturn of 2008, the project has sat dormant. It returned Monday night in a different form.

The all-brick condo development and 100 parking spaces will instead become an 81-apartment unit, 81-parking-space development with Hardie board siding rather than brick. The building will be LEED Silver. The change did not go through easily.

Neighbors to the rear of the development on Harrison Street spoke out against the changes. Parking and the aesthetics of brick versus Hardie board were the primary complaints. Changes such as those proposed should necessitate a return to the plan commission, several speakers said.

The Council was initially split. “I have a problem with Hardie board,” said Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st ward. “It just looks so cheap.” Saying she preferred condos to student rental, she said the matter should go back to the plan commission. She also said that the single shared car space, set aside for I-Go or Zip Car or similar car sharing service, was insufficient. There should be at least six such parking spaces according to Ald. Fiske.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, had issues with the parking. A 1-to-1 ratio was not enough, she said, adding that the parking study attached did not have true comparables because it had downtown Evanston buildings.

Aldermen Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, and Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, argued in favor of the project. While everyone would prefer all-brick condominiums, said Ald. Wilson, apartment buildings are “a financial reality we have to face.” Ald. Rainey said that if the City really wants to be green then at some point it has to discourage car-ownership and limited parking is one way to do so.

The measure passed out of Planning and Development and was introduced on the Council’s consent agenda. The debate over parking and siding will continue in two weeks, though support seems to be there for passage.

Office Depot Sign

The renovated Office Depot on Green Bay Road at Jenks sought a variance allowing for a larger sign than the City Code permits. Under procedural rules, they had to first seek approval of the Sign Review and Appeals Board, who unanimously rejected the application. Rules then allow the Planning and Development Committee, sitting as final authority, to hear an appeal of that decision if so inclined. In August, P&D (by 2-1 vote) agreed to hear it. The appeal took place Monday night, Sept. 26.

Office Depot sought a sign 11 inches higher than permitted on the Green Bay Road side of the building. On the Jenks side, they asked for an additional five and a half feet. Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, suggested that the committee “split the baby and grant the Green Bay variance while denying the Jenks one. Alderman Melissa Wynne said the issues should be split but separate votes taken. It was clear that the Jenks-side variance was doomed. Sure enough, it fell by 5-0 vote.

Neighbors across the Metra tracks insisted that the 11-inch variance should be denied. Rany Otte said the sign would cause “real damage to neighbors.” Craig Peterson, a retired Northwestern law professor, said the 11-inch variance would “harm very dramatically the public welfare.” He said that he “would not be surprised” if the new sign resulted in a “10%, 15% or 20% reduction in appraised value” of homes across the Metra tracks.

Ald. Wynne said that she lives on Hinman, and as a result can see the Chicago Jewel and Whole Foods lights from her house. She understood the concerns of the neighbors.

Alderman Delores Holmes asked when the lights would go out. Nine p.m., when Office Depot closes, said Rosalyn Holderfield of Office Depot. The committee voted 3-2 to allow the extra 11 inches facing the Metra tracks across Green Bay Road. Alds. Wilson, Holmes and Rainey voted yes while Ald. Fiske joined Ald. Wynne in voting no.

Golf Course Remains in Limbo

The Evanston-Wilmette Golf Course continues to struggle to pay its bills, but the City will not pull the plug quite yet. Instead, at City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz’s suggestion the matter will be set aside until December. The golf course will owe about $20,000 in unpaid water bills at that time, said Mr. Bobkiewicz, but he asked “the Council’s indulgence until at least the first part of December.” He is satisfied with progress the golf course has made.

The City has the option to terminate the lease for failure to pay water bills. Termination, however, would require the City to take over maintenance of the course at a cost well in excess of the cost of the water used. The issue keeps getting chipped down the course, but December is not very far off.

The Mayor and Marijuana

Mayor Elizabeht Tisdahl announced that she had asked the City’s attorneys to draft an ordinance that would make the possession of 10 grams of marijuana or less an offense equivalent to a parking ticket, modeled on an ordinance passed by fellow Big Ten city Ann Arbor, Mich.

“How much is 10 grams?” asked Ald. Rainey.

“Don’t ask me that. … You are out of order,” replied the Mayor.

The City as Skating Rink Operator

Mr. Bobkiewicz reported that the City had purchased $15,000 worth of roller skates and will continue its highly successful roller skating program begun over the summer. Sam McKinney of Best taxi donated $9,000 toward the purchase, he said. The City welcomes additional donations for the remaining $6,000.

Ald. Rainey pointed out that on the agenda the same night is a proposal to eliminate the use of “roller rink” from the City code.

“That has to do with business licenses and has nothing to do with what the City Manager is speaking to tonight,” said a testy Grant Farrar, corporation counsel.

Dangerous Dogs

The amended dangerous dog ordinance was tabled until Ald. Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, out of town Monday night but the ordinance’s primary sponsor, can weigh in on proposed further amendments. It might be just as well because Ald. Fiske reported that the matter will return to Human Services next week for further amendment.

Here Comes Venus – Maybe

Fresh off a visit to a tennis tournament outside of Cincinnati, Ald. Fiske wondered why Evanston could not support such an event. She contacted Northwestern and has met with athletic director Jim Phillips, she said. There is interest on all sides. Revenue from ticket sales alone could eclipse $1 million, she said. More to come in the future.