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The first meetings of the New Year brought a pent up flood of items before City Council, but predominantly good spirits and the emergence from weeks of extreme cold, a tragic fire, and the holidays made for a smoother than expected meeting. Highlights of the Jan. 13 City Council meeting included a major announcement concerning long vacant space on Evanston’s south side.
Beginning with the last item to happen, Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, announced during the meeting-ending call of the wards that the owners of Chicago’s Little Beans Café are in lease negotiations with the owner of the former Osco space at Oakton Street and Asbury Avenue to open an Evanston café. Vacant for at least seven years, the Osco space has long been a focus of Ald. Burrus, Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, and the City’s economic development department.
Should negotiations be successful, Little Beans will bring their indoor playground and family café concept to Evanston. The 1809 W. Webster location in Chicago offers classes, parties, and free open play space for kids while parents can enjoy cups of coffee or other offerings. Kids are charged per visit. The empty parking lot, deteriorating building, and sadly lighted empty interior of the former Osco may soon be teeming with children.
Less exciting were the typical water and sewer department expenses. First, the purchase of closed circuit television pipeline inspection equipment, costing more than $37,000, was approved.
Next, Council approved the purchase of $70,350 worth of Vortex Restrictors. The staff memo stated that existing restrictors have “gone missing.” The RoundTable asked Director of Utilities Dave Stonebeck to clear up the mystery, but he said only that 10 restrictors “disappeared” over a five-year period. He speculated that some had been removed by residents who wanted stormwater to flow more rapidly off the street, but agreed that it is possible they had been stolen. Restrictors limit the amount of water that enters the storm sewer from the street, preventing an overloaded combined stormwater-sewer system. Overloading often results in sewer backup in residents’ basements.
The City purchases vortex restrictors in bulk, he said, and therefore at lower prices. New projects often require developers to install such restrictors, in which case the City will sell them to make sure the restrictors get installed.
A change order to the Davis Street sewer project was held by Council pending more information regarding Bolder Contractors, Inc.’s compliance with the City’s local employment program. The LEP requires contractors to make efforts to hire at least one Evanston resident. Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, said Bolder decided to pay a fine rather than comply. City staff said the Bolder claimed they advertised but could not find a qualified Evanstonian. “That’s garbage,” said Ald. Braithwaite. “I don’t believe it.”
The change order, and nearly $70,000, will be held until the City obtains proof from Bolder that they indeed made efforts to comply with the LEP.
SWANCC disposal fees are back. Council approved disposal fees to the Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County, the agency that disposes of Evanston’s garbage. Over the past several years, according to the staff memo, Evanston has reduced its annual garbage output from 15,390 tons in 2011 to an estimated 12,700 tons in 2013, with a goal of 11,500 tons in 2014. In 2008 the figure stood at 17,742 tons. The disposal fee has retreated as well, from $99300 in 2008 to about $681,000 in 2013. While the City hopes this trend will continue, Council budgeted about $1.1 million in SWANNC fees. Ald. Rainey asked about the smaller garbage cans, and their lesser monthly fee. Public Works Director Suzette Robinson said there had been a slight uptick in requests. Smaller cans mean less garbage, more recycling and less SWANCC fees.
The City continues to acquire more and more of Howard Street. After Ald. Rainey’s very public, self-described “rant” against BMO Harris, over of 721-3 Howard St., she said it took less than 24 hours for the phone to ring – repeatedly. The City will now purchase the building for $95,000, well off the bank’s initial $140,000 asking price. Ald. Rainey called the new building, next door to the proposed theater location, a critical piece to the City’s redevelopment plans for Howard Street. As to what the City will do with the building, residents will have to await further developments.
As if all the new restaurants in liquor bytes were not enough, two other new restaurants are coming but not, as of now, seeking to serve booze. A new Harold’s Chicken is going in at 337 Howard St., on the very edge of Evanston next to the 415 Howard building.
Store manager Kelly Roberts could not promise the Harold’s Chicken car for her grand opening, but she did commit to people dressed in chicken suits. “Let’s just remember that we’re in the Great Eighth ward,” joked Ald. Rainey. “We don’t like a lot of big chickens running around.” She added that the restaurant will be in a very problematic neighborhood and cautioned Ms. Roberts to watch out and be careful.
Up on Noyes Street, David Morton, brother of Found owner Amy Morton, will open a DMK Burger and Fish Bar restaurant in the former Fraiche space. The plan is to be up and running within four weeks said Mr. Morton.
Finally, bad news that everyone new was coming arrived in the form of the public works snow removal operations report. Between Dec. 31 and Jan. 2, said Director Robinson, the City received 26.5 inches of snow (14 inches followed three days later by 12.5 inches). The storm was made more difficult by the fact that the second snowfall was forecast to measure only one to two inches.
To date the season has brought 39.7 inches. An average seasonal snowfall is about 27 inches in Evanston, and it is mid-January. From a cost perspective, the City budgeted $685,000 for snow removal in 2014, and to date has spent $520,000. Not only does the City have to face the remainder of this winter season remaining, but because of the switch to an annual rather than fiscal year, the first part of next winter remains. Chances are pretty good that budget figures will be significantly exceeded. Here’s hoping for a nice stretch of mild weather.