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City Council met twice over the past couple of weeks, on May 12, a standard meeting, and on May 19, to cover a slew of special orders of business. Unions, a new brewery, collection boxes, and few ordinance tweaks were among the highlights.

 Continuing the relatively non-controversial trend of recent years, the union contracts between the City, the Fraternal Order of Police and AFSCME were approved and will last through the end of 2016. If the negotiations were testy at all, the parties kept their disagreements private. At the City Council level the vote took no time at all, and the only comment came from Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, who said the contract provides for step salary increases, and not tuition reimbursement. The entire contract, she said, will be available for public review on the City’s website.

A new microbrewery – actually what we will come to call a “nano-brewery” – was introduced over the objections of some residents. Sketchbook, if it passes next week, will operate out of the alley behind Chicago Avenue, just south of Main Street. It was the alley location that caused some residents to object.

Several residents questioned the classification of a small brewery as a “retail establishment” under the zoning code. That classification means that no special use is required, and that zoning is a matter of right in a number of areas.

Later, Council considered a tweak to the zoning code that would establish the definitions of, and land use restrictions for, microbreweries (producing less than 30,000 barrels a year) and related nano-breweries (which City staff did not define, but which others define as businesses producing fewer than 3,000 gallons per year). If Council makes such tweaks, the next Sketchbook-type business will probably need to travel a different path.

For now, though, the current rules apply. Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said it would not be fair or proper to retroactively apply special-use provisions to Sketchbook this far into the process. Limits as to the number and size of samples allowed to be served and a restriction prohibiting the sale of beer samples will be added to Sketchbook’s license before final passage next week.

 The City is also considering a new zoning ordinance allowing an “aquaponics” establishment in certain zoning districts. Aquaponics systems combine aquatic animals such as fish and snails and plant life in a symbiotic loop. Mark Muenzer of the City’s Economic Development department said that “while we do not have a specific proposal, we get a lot of questions [and] we want to be prepared when we get” a serious aquaponics business looking to come to Evanston. The measure was introduced without debate.

Council also approved a “pilot program” offering economic assistance in the form of credit against fees and permits for festivals and special events throughout the City. The first recipient will be the Custer Street Fair. According to fair organizers, the City sent the Custer Street Fair a bill for more than $14,000, including police and fire service exceeding $12,000. Under the pilot program, the City will offer no more than $10,000 in support by writing off those fees. The incentive may attract more or improved fairs in the future as producing such events might become more economically feasible in the future.

The improvements to Howard Street have made the Police Outpost there, barely used by the police, a possible spot for a new tenant. Council approved placing that location on the market. At approximately 2,500 square feet, the building could house a retail or food service tenant soon. Its proximity to the thriving Ward Eight and Peckish Pig could make Howard Street attractive. The Police Outpost will relocate someplace else on Howard, according to the staff memo.

The special orders of business on May 19 included a lengthy discussion on the Cradle to Career initiative that took up more time than anticipated. As a result, a discussion of the 2014 Capital Improvement Projects for City facilities was postponed. The first-quarter financial report was not discussed at all but simply accepted and placed on file.

Finally, though the matter was not discussed, `the City will be seeking a series of grants for a new artificial “field turf” soccer surface at Lovelace Park. Council authorized a letter of intent to the U.S. Soccer Foundation seeking $250,000 toward what is anticipated to be a $1.45 million project.