The Feb. 25 meeting of the Evanston City Council displayed to full effect the peaks and valleys, the highs and the lows, the happy and the sad, of living and working in a City like Evanston.
The meeting was interrupted twice: first, Council celebrated the achievements and career of former Mayor Lorraine Morton by dedicating her portrait, and just a short time later all business ground to a halt when one citizen refused to leave the citizen comment lectern and loudly demanded that her alleged constitutional rights be honored. Ah, Evanston.
A packed agenda surrounded the interruptions, with special orders of business topping the list. The result was a meeting that ended publicly after 11 p.m., when Council went into executive session.
Evonda Thomas-Smith, the City’s director of Public Health, announced the first special order of business – a proposal to invite Presence Behavioral Health to operate in Evanston a crisis intervention hotline as a community partner. Frank Perham, vice President of PBH, said Evanston would be added to a network of communities across the North Shore. “We already do this; we want to expand into Evanston at cost and on a trial basis,” he said.
PBH will offer 24-hour crisis hotline assistance for the mentally ill and other special needs cases in the community. They provided similar service for Evanston until about seven years ago when St. Francis Hospital, where the program was based, was acquired by corporate interests. The cost to Evanston will be $55,000 for crisis intervention, case management, outreach and home visitation as well as the hotline. Mr. Perham says the City will realize significant savings in that residents will be encouraged to call PBH rather than 911. The Fire Department is obligated to respond to every 911 call, even calls by those who call frequently. If such calls can be significantly reduced, PBH will pay for itself.
Council approved the expenditure partly on the basis of the recommendation of the City’s Mental Health Board. Measurable metrics will be added so that the City can quantify the impact of the new services.
The City’s economic development team presented the second special order of business, an economic development “work plan.”
The new plan, according to City Manager Wally Bobkeiwicz, adds a “quality of place” component, summarized as “what makes Evanston Evanston.” The new plan adds retail retention and attraction, as well as workforce development, as areas of focus. The three new components join existing areas of focus: arts and entertainment, entrepreneurship and water industries.
Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said, “This is a very mature plan. … I could not be more pleased.” Council adopted the plan unanimously.
For the first time, and in celebration of Evanston’s 150th birthday, Council voted to contribute to the annual 4th of July parade. Every other year, the 4th of July Association has funded the entire parade through private contributions, with the City providing in-kind assistance in the form of police and fire department presence and cleanup. The money will go toward musical acts for the parade and promises to make this year’s incarnation particularly special.
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she suspects 90 percent of Evanstonians believe the City funds the parade, though it does not. She called $10,000 “a drop in the bucket.” The City’s Director of Parks Doug Gaynor estimated the total value of just the in-kind contributions of the City to be about $65,000.
Vinic Wine Shop, which added unrefrigerated beer to its product register recently, will soon add liquor. Council introduced without controversy an amendment to the wine shop liquor license, Class Y, allowing for up to 2 percent of floor space to be used for liquor sales. Look for FEW Spirits on Vinic’s shelves soon.
More boots, more boots! Without discussion, Council passed an ordinance that will allow the City to slap more Denver boots on Evanston cars by keeping more vehicle violations within Evanston rather than sending them to Skokie. A missing tail light, for example, can now result in a boot. Cars with five or more outstanding violations, including parking tickets, can receive the boot.
The failure of the Evanston-Wilmette Golf Association to pay its water bill appears to have been resolved, with the golf course paying back bills at a rate of $2,306.74 per month beginning in June. Hopefully this matter will not return to Council.
The new Smylie Brothers Restaurant and Brewery asked for relief from a zoning ordinance requirement that they provide seven off-street parking spaces. Instead, the brewpub plans an outdoor seating area where the parking spaces would have been. Economic Development Director Steve Griffin said that the transit-oriented location of the restaurant encouraged the City to waive off-street parking requirements. The ordinance was introduced without objection and will likely pass easily next meeting.
Less successful was a proposal by the Community Partners for Affordable Housing, an affordable housing land trust, to receive a forgivable $278,000 HOME loan to purchase and rehabilitate a foreclosed two-unit building in the Second Ward.
The problem: CPAH did not identify the particular property at issue. “I would love to give this new outfit [CPAH] a chance,” said Ald. Rainey, “but I’m not going to do it without knowing what the property is. They’ve got to show us the product.” The Planning and Development Committee decided to hold the proposal pending further information.
Finally, soon it may be tougher to open a hair salon or other “personal service” business on Howard Street within the Howard Street TIF district. Council voted to introduce a change to the zoning ordinance and a companion change to the TIF overlay district that would make such businesses “special uses.” A special use, in contrast to a business zoned appropriate as a matter of right, requires permission from the City. The Plan Commission recommended against the change.
Ald. Rainey said the reason was that there are already 12 hair salons within a two-block stretch of Howard. There is only one on the Chicago side of the street, she said, because Chicago zoning requires a special use if two such businesses are within 1,000 feet of each other.
Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, voted against the zoning changes. The measures come up for final vote at the next meeting.