A brand new City Council was sworn in on May 13 – it just happened to be the same City Council as the last one. Two aldermen prevailed after facing ballot challenges, and a third after facing a write-in challenge; but the other six and the mayor were all elected without opposition. So the same mayor and the same nine aldermen returned to the dais for new Council business.
The full Council meeting started before the Administration and Public Works Committee, and after the swearing-in ceremony, Council members broke for refreshments and congratulations. The party continued in the hallway as the committee eventually got to work. “Why are we here? We should be out there,” said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, pointing to the celebrants.
The City is considering a new elevator inspection company, in a move that would save the City about $20,000. Staff still has some questions, however, and the item was pulled from the agenda so that additional information could be gathered. There are 824 elevators, escalators and similar apparatuses in Evanston, and each is supposed to be inspected every other year.
The Keg finally rolled completely out of Evanston, as its liquor license was officially pulled on May 13. The troubled establishment has been closed for several weeks and that night’s action was more housekeeping than anything else.
Seventeen contractors attended a bidding conference at which the Noyes Cultural Arts Center’s roof-replacement project was explained. Only one of them submitted a bid. The $1 million contract therefore goes to G.A. Johnson & Son; $750,000 of this will be covered by a state grant. Residents can look forward to the new roof, but not as much as the building’s tenants. Waiting in the wings is a decision regarding Piven Theater Group, a matter Council has yet to fully address.
The vacation rental matter appears to be nearing resolution in the form of a compromise that will require every resident who wishes to rent out a room to apply for a special-use permit as a type of bed-and-breakfast. Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, pointed out that the changes to the bed-and-breakfast ordinance made the law inconsistent, and moved to hold the matter until those issues could be sorted out. He accepted an alternative suggestion from Ald. Rainey; the ordinance was introduced but will be returned to committee. Soon, anyone who wishes to rent out a room one or two nights a year will be legally required to get a special-use permit.
There appears to be good news on the Kendall property front: A new developer has come into the picture. Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said the proposal from the new developer, North Shore Builders, may preserve every single tree on the lot. The most vocal proponents of those trees, Padma and B.K. Rao, have been absent from the last two Council meetings – having attended nearly every meeting for the previous two years – perhaps because the trees may well be saved after all.
A community meeting about a proposed yard-waste transfer station assuaged most of the concerns of the residents, and a proposal allowing such a use in I3 zoning districts passed without further debate. One resident who attended the meeting said it showed democracy at work, with residents and a business owner listening to each other rationally and reaching a sound conclusion. The meeting was called at the request of Alderman Coleen Burrus, whose Ninth Ward includes the proposed transfer site.
Perhaps on a related note, an ordinance that seeks to allow commercial indoor recreational facilities in industrial zones continues to elude passage. The issue centers upon the possibility that a non-commercial or not-for-profit entity could purchase property and take it off the tax rolls. Ald. Rainey has pointed out repeatedly that industrial zone tax rates are high and mean significant revenue for the City. Ald. Wilson, long a proponent of indoor sports facilities, continues to try to make the ordinance work. The matter will return, possibly for resolution, on May 28.
A grant of $165,000 to the Music Institute of Chicago to offset construction costs for its new headquarters at 1702 Sherman Ave., the former Marshall Field building, passed without discussion. MIC is closing its Dempster Street and Wilmette locations and consolidating them into the new space. The City’s contribution will go toward an estimated $800,000 in construction costs for offices, classrooms and a new 150-seat black-box theater.
Finally, the Peckish One project on Howard Street received approval to proceed without having to supply eight off-street parking spaces. Council passed the matter without debate. Type I restaurants ordinarily require such parking, but the location was near ample street parking and a number of available private lots. Council felt the parking requirement need not be met in this case. Rules were suspended to allow for immediate action.