A jam-packed council chambers greetedEvanston’s City Council Monday night, Sept. 10, with most citizens there in support of the Greenwells (see separate story on 13-year-old handcuffed), an issue that was not on the agenda. The agenda itself was packed as well. In days past, a packed agenda plus a packed house meant 1 or 2 a.m., but Council managed to claw through the night at a decent pace and finished about 10 p.m.
Along the way, they approved millions in sewer spending, took the next step on the Emerson Square Brinshore development, did the same for Trader Joe’s, agreed to two new union contracts, started the Chicago and MainTIFprocess, and approved the Heartwood Center’s modest loan. It was a productive evening indeed.
Four sewer items plus a streetscape project totaled about $5.3 million in spending, yet they were barely discussed at all in either the Administration and Public Works committee or Council itself. Such projects are rarely, if ever, discussed in any detail, even though they represent huge chunks of taxpayer money. The sewers must be maintained and repaired. Projects funded included structure lining for 50 manhole covers, water utility security door replacement, large-diameter sewer rehabilitation (close to $3 million on its own), and the emergency Central Street water main replacement and street resurfacing in response to recent water main bursts (a cool $1.57 million).
The exception was $110,000 of the $276,000 Central Street streetscape project between Lincolnwood and Ewing avenues. Likening it to a facade improvement project, Director of Public Works Suzette Robinson recommended that the economic development fund cover a portion of the cost. Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, objected, saying it had not came through the Economic Development Committee. Instead, City Council voted on the funding split, said City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz. Ald. Rainey moved to amend the item and fund it using the Capital Improvement budget entirely. As amended, the ordinance passed 8-1, with Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, voting no because, she said, she believed there was a possible explanation for the funding split.
Trader Joe’s cleared another hurdle, this time with aplomb, as the Planning and Development Committee gushed over the neighborhood involvement and responsiveness of the developer in reaching agreement on all major issues. “Trader Joe’s has set a new standard” in listening and responding to the community, said Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, and Council should look at the process for future developments. Changes to the initial plan include an enclosed delivery facility set off by an 8-foot stone wall and a landscaped trellis. The special use permit passed unanimously at P&D and on the consent agenda at Council. Construction should begin soon.
An item that last year would have been on the opposite end of the community- involvement spectrum, the convenience store at 555 Howard St., made an about-face. “This 555 Howard Street was my worst nightmare” a year ago, said Ald. Rainey. At that time, the store was operating 24 hours a day despite zoning that permitted limited operation between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Council denied a request to amend the zoning at that time. Since then, however, things have changed. “They must have become one of the most active members of the Howard Street Business Association,” said Ald. Rainey. “Based upon how well they’ve performed, I agreed to expanding hours.” She also asked for and received suspension of the rules, allowing the new hours to take effect immediately. New hours: 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., with a promise of possible added hours in the future if things continue to go well.
TheEmerson Square project, a mixed-income residential project that will place 32 new units on the site of the former Bishop Freeman factory between Foster and Emerson streets just east of Dewey, moved forward. The project will be funded partially by NSP2 funds, but largely by private investment, and will be developed by Brinshore Development in partnership with the City. On the agenda, and passed easily, were several components: the subdivision of one lot into seven and authorization for the sale of those seven lots by the City to Brinshore entities. Demolition has begun, causing some neighbors to complain of early morning noise and vibration, meaning the project is well under way already.
The City agreed to new two-year contracts with two of its unions, both with modest wage increases averaging a bit over 2% per year. Council approved the contracts with Firefighters Local 742 and AFSCME. Gone are furlough days and some limits to overtime pay on holidays. Changes to some elements of the City’s health-care plans will result in slightly higher expenses. On the whole, both sides compromised and recognized economic reality. “I think [Council] really appreciates the negotiations and the settlement,” said Ald. Rainey.
Evanston’s new Federally Qualified Health Clinic signed a lease with the City to operate out of the basement of the CivicCenteruntil a permanent location can be found. The City’s Director of Health and Human Services, Evonda Thomas, told the RoundTable that the clinic, operated byErieFamilyHealthCenter, will see its first patient on Oct. 22, 2012.
Erieplans to acquire a dental practice immediately that will allow a full offering of dental services. They expect to have one full-time internal medicine physician on staff and on the premises, as well as a part-time behavioral health specialist, said Ms. Thomas. Community health nurses will also be on staff, she said.
City Council approved the lease, at $1 per year, through Dec. 2013. But the clinic does not expect to stay in its temporary home that long. “They expect to be out in the community by late summer ,” said Ms. Thomas. Until then, they will provide services out of the former medical services space in theCivicCenterbasement beginning next month.
An item from the “it just won’t die” column cropped up on the Planning and Development Committee agenda. Despite having just been defeated soundly at Council in July, Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, brought the bed and breakfast ordinance back and referred it to the law department for additional work over the protests of Ald. Rainey and Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward. Allowing owners of B&Bs to be LLCs and the density issue limiting the proliferation of B&Bs are key issues the City needs to address, Ald. Fiske said. Two speakers, both of whom addressed Council members and apparently failed to sway their view in July and months before, appeared again to reiterate their former pleas.
Ald. Rainey asked, “How many inquiries” have we had from entities interested in starting a bed and breakfast over the past two years? Exactly one, responded Director of Community Development Steve Griffin, that one being theLake Streetbed and breakfast established by Col. J.B. Pritzker that opened the issue over 18 months ago.
“Nobody has proven it’s a big issue. Nobody,” said Ald. Rainey, pointing to the single application. “I don’t understand this very bizarre obsession” with bed and breakfasts when the City has “so many problems” to discuss, she said. She also protested bringing something back immediately after a vote had defeated it. “We need to talk about this at Rules Committee,” she said.
Nevertheless, the referral has been made. The City’s legal staff will once again spend its days crafting yet another bed and breakfast ordinance, one Ald. Rainey predicts, with immediate historical evidence in her favor, will go down in defeat again.
Economic Development Sidebar
TheHeartwoodCenterreceived its requested loan Monday night as Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, was unable to convince anyone to agree with her argument that it was a bad investment and that Council did not have enough information. The loan, $100,000 to be used toward the renovation of warehouse space into office space for holistic care professionals, will be secured by real estate conservatively valued at over $1 million.
Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, argued strongly in favor of the loan. “This is a known commodity [that has made] a positive difference in the community already,” he said. “It is a bit disingenuous for us to toss [funding to] the developer across the street [Bonnie Management, the new owner of theDempsterDodgeShopping Center], and we’re going to give this owner of a known commodity a bit of a hard time” over a $100,000 loan. He pointed again to the positive impact theHeartwoodCenterhas had on the community already.
Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, said he was “a little disappointed with some of the comments I heard moments ago” from Ald. Burrus. “No other business has had to show personal tax information,” he said, yet Ald. Burrus required such from Heartwood. The loan will be used for hard construction costs, and not to pay the salary of someone at Heartwood, he said. [Ald. Burrus voted in favor of a grant, not a loan, to Now We’re Cookin’, a large portion of which pays the salary of an “incubator manager.”]
Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, also cited the improvements the owner has already made to the property and the neighborhood. Ald. Rainey said she expected the City would be using this project as advertising for whatEvanston’s economic development program can do in the future. And the outcome was clear – the measure passed 8-1 with Ald. Burrus the lone holdout.
On a related note, the TIC funding request that could not even get a second at Economic Development will nonetheless appear on the September 24 City Council agenda. Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl announced that she was placing the item as a Special Order of Business on the agenda, calling the TIC an important part of the community andEvanston’s economic development goals. The full Council will address the matter then.