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The controversy surrounding the fate of the Harley Clarke mansion, the historic former fraternity headquarters located right off of Lighthouse Beach in north Evanston, adjacent to the Northwestern campus, took a surprising sudden turn Monday night, April 1, when the City voted to allow a food service conglomerate to swoop in and take over the deteriorating structure.

All About Cheap Food, which runs several tollway oasis stops in Illinois, presented the plan to an initially skeptical Council. But once the roster of potential businesses became clear, the icy reception thawed.

“We’re looking at a Starbucks. A Pizza Hut. One of the major fried chicken outlets. A convenience-gift outlet,” said Bubba McFatten, counsel for AACF.

“What about parking? Parking has always been a concern. Parking will always be a concern,” asked City Traffic czar Pearl De Blanc. Parking concerns led to the demise of several planned uses for the mansion. One plan, however, addressed parking concerns – and AACF’s proposal picked up on that solution.

“An underground parking deck,” said Mr. McFatten. “As I understand it, plans have already been initiated. We could park about 75 cars underneath the current lot, and our use is really an ‘in and out’ use. Plus, we expect many student visits, and students walk or bike. Or take the shuttle, which will definitely stop at the HC Oasis.

“If that doesn’t work, we can always pave the lawn in front of the building,” he added.

Several hisses rose from the audience as soon as the word “pave” escaped Mr. McFatten’s lips. Council listened. “There will be no paving the lawn in front of the building,” said Ms. De Blanc. “We might consider the field just north of the building, however. It gets very little use on a day- to-day basis.”

The current plans for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to use the space remain unchanged, says Ms. De Blanc. “We view these as ancillary uses,” she said. “The IDNR can have the upstairs and the land behind the mansion on down to the lake. AACF can have the first level and the basement for food preparation. Everybody wins.”

Most residents were outraged by the development. “There’s no way this happens so fast without closed-door meetings – extensive, illegal closed-door meetings. No way,” said June Bettie, speaking at citizen comment. “Where are the minutes? Release the minutes – and the tapes.”

“Our park space is sacred, and defiling it with the likes of Pizza Hut is not Evanston. Not Evanston at all. We are better than this. In fact, I believe we should ban all fast-food restaurants within one mile of the Evanston lakefront. Every one,” said Harvey B. Nimms, a resident of the Third Ward.

The fate of the mansion has been in limbo for several years, as the City claims it does not have the money to repair and maintain the building. The Evanston Arts Center, which occupies the building now for $1/year rent, will move out in January, 2015.