Evanston news delivered free to your inbox! 

It will be no surprise to readers of this paper that we applaud the July 22 decision of the City Council to reject the proposal from James Pritzker’s Taiwani Enterprises to develop the Harley Clarke mansion with a 57-room boutique hotel.

We do not believe the City should sell lakefront property or other parkland, and we believe access to the lakefront should not be compromised any further.

The City has promised open discussions about the next steps in addressing the future of the mansion.

Several concepts will doubtless be involved in these discussions, and we hope that Council and community will consider each one discretely before they become entangled in a “model” proposal.

Two things, we think, are of primary importance: that no park or public land be sold and that 2603 Sheridan Road retain its open-space (OS) zoning.

Several ideas have already been suggested and, while many of them may seem appealing, we think it is incumbent upon all of us to have the long vision here, scrutinizing proposals not just for what they could bring to the present day but also what benefits they will bring to future generations.

Deliberations should be guided by the Lakefront Master Plan, adopted by City Council in 2008. The plan is available on the City’s website, cityofevanston.org.

A public use of the building that includes rental of the building for private functions such as weddings would be ideal.

 Even though the mansion was “saved” from the proposed hotel, many residents are on edge and say they do not believe the drive to privatize the building and sell the parkland is over.

Part of that blame lies with the City. Taiwani’s response to the City’s request for proposals was said to be the only “responsive” one, yet it was for a 57-room hotel. Further, discussions of the proposal continued in two closed-session discussions that appear to have violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act. Finally, when the RoundTable requested the minutes and the audio tapes of those meetings, we were told that the audio tapes had been “inadvertently destroyed.”

These errors are compounded by the fact that on previous occasions the City has put other City assets on the table for selling: the Chandler-Newberger Center, the Ecology Center, the North Branch Library and the City’s lease on the golf course. While those measures did not come to fruition, one can see why much of the public is skittish when it comes to the future of the mansion.

The City has to re-earn the trust of its residents, and this could be a slow process. Transparency and openness in government means a lot more than putting on the website notifications or press releases about what has already been done.

We believe it is up to the City to make the first moves, and City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz has said it is his “intention to open up a process by which the City of Evanston can directly engage its residents so they can share with us creative ideas for the adaptive reuse of this iconic lakefront property that would keep intact the surrounding park area.”

 That is a start, and we hope residents will accept this overture and others in good faith. 

Yes, it may be a slow process, but even the snail will climb Mount Fuji.

If residents and City officials – whether elected or appointed – cannot get past their anger and mistrust, the Battle of the Clarke Mansion will continue, fruitlessly, to be fought.