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A budget process that ended with barely a whimper took what would generally prove to be a most contentious and lengthy debate off the table on Nov. 26. That left bathrooms, banking and gas and a few other items to be dealt with.

The bathrooms, amazingly, will cost nearly $300,000. The men’s washrooms at the Civic Center are not currently handicapped-accessible because “they are constructed on raised floors,” according to the staff memo, and there is no “publicly available women’s washroom … on the building’s first floor.” Both are violations of the ADA.

The City cannot afford to fix these problems all at once. As it turns out, about $285,000 buys only two new bathrooms. In this case, the third- and fourth- floor men’s restrooms will come first, with the first-floor men’s and women’s coming “in the future as funding permits.” The restrooms outside Council chambers are already accessible.

A new gas station affiliated with Food For Less, likely coming soon to Main Street in the Food For Less shopping center, will offer discounted prices to all residents, not just members. Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, feared the station would block sightlines to businesses in the shopping center, but the station is allowable under the zoning code and blocks views less than a box building would.

Chasing the Bank Competition
In an item that proves that voices of protest are at times heeded by the City, Council voted to change its commercial banking service from J.P. Morgan Chase to First Bank and Trust. A protest movement against using Chase has been active in the community for months. Former Evanston Mayor Jay Lytle, representing the First Bank and Trust, said the local bank also offers lower mortgage rates and less costs to City employees seeking to buy homes in Evanston, another initiative pursued by the City recently.
 
Staff called the decision “extremely difficult” because of the 10-year relationship with Chase, and “because all of the interviewed banks are active in the community, sponsoring a variety of not-for-profit agencies … in the areas of arts and culture, education, economic development and affordable housing.” No mention was made of Occupy Evanston’s protests calling for the change.

Vacation Rentals
The vacation rental debate returned with residents who live near Northwestern’s football stadium returning to complain of a neighborhood home that regularly rents rooms by the night, using websites such as Craigslist and Air B&B. Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar said the City could do nothing to regulate such a practice because of “equal protection” arguments made recently in federal court against such efforts to regulate a home rental in south Evanston.

The Planning and Development Committee seemed inclined to outright ban nightly rental, but acknowledged the list of exceptions to such a ban could be lengthy. Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, encouraged “stakeholders” in the public to submit suggestions, both on the ban side and on the exception side. There is “a spectrum of fine variations. I don’t have the answers,” he said.

Aldermen Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, and Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, both called for a license scheme under which business uses must obtain a license from the City.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, was strongest in calling for an outright ban.

The matter will remain with City staff while a proposed ordinance is prepared. Until then, nightly rentals will continue. The City’s legal staff has decided that nothing can be done under current ordinances to stop or regulate it.