Evanstonians may ask why Evanston needs a lakefront protection ordinance when a Lakefront Master Plan was unanimously passed by City Council in 2008. Dozens of Evanston citizens worked for two years on the plan (http://www.cityofevanston.org/parks-recreation/lakefront-master-plan/index.php), which cost the taxpayers nearly $200,000 in consultant fees.

The answer is that Evanston needs a protection ordinance because recent developments demonstrate that City Council views the Lakefront Master Plan as a suggestion rather than a policy. It has no teeth. 

Experiences of the past year prove that, although the plan provides guidelines for how to treat the lakefront, it does not protect the lakefront. As an example, Northwestern University is constructing a seven-story parking garage/visitors center on the curve of Sheridan Road at Clark Street beach. Almost an acre of the beach became part of this project; dozens of trees that had provided shelter for birds and created a buffer between the beach and the university were cleared. Ignoring citizens’ pleas, the Evanston City Council voted to override the unanimous decision of the Preservation Commission, which would have prevented the encroachment of the garage onto public land.

The Master Plan also failed to protect the lakefront in the case of the potential sale of 2.5 acres of public parkland at Lighthouse Landing along with the Evanston Art Center/Harley Clarke Mansion to a private developer.  Our position is that the proposal presented to the City was so far outside the City’s Request for Proposals (RFP) that the City should have graciously thanked the developer for his interest and halted any further discussion as long as public parkland was included. That is not what happened. Not until thousands of residents came together with letters, petitions and signs and more than 400 citizens crowded into City Hall did the City Council finally do the right thing and vote not to privatize precious lakefront parkland.

What would a Lakefront Protection Ordinance provide?

An ordinance has legal teeth and renders the workings of governmental decision-making more transparent to the community. The 2008 Lakefront Master Plan is not binding. A Lakefront Protection Ordinance would call upon the City to implement for the ongoing protection of Evanston’s shoreline, parks and beaches the Lakefront Master Plan that

• keeps the lakefront beaches and parks in the public domain and ensures that long-term leases are consistent with Evanston’s vision as approved in the Lakefront Master Plan;

• ensures transparency, providing ample chances for public notice, comments and discussion so that Evanston residents may participate fully in civic decisions regarding the lakefront;

• provides safeguards from shoreline structures and improves the integrity of Lake Michigan’s ecology.

Ideally, an effective Lakefront Protection Ordinance should be designed to codify the Lakefront Master Plan. The City Council would then not be able to sell or give long-term leases to private entities any public lakefront parkland without a unanimous vote of the Council and with lots of public notice and comment. The ordinance should also provide for the future improvement of the natural Lake Michigan shoreline.

We are happy to announce the creation of Evanston Parks and Lakefront Alliance (EvPLA), which consists of individuals and community groups who support our mission: to provide strong civic stewardship that protects Evanston’s parks, open spaces and lakefront for all generations.

EvPLA will reach out to all Evanston neighborhoods to work together to promote the preservation of neighborhood parks and ensure that a lakefront ordinance becomes a reality. We encourage those who wish to join our efforts to contact us at info@evpla.org. Our immediate goal is to bring together residents who believe, as we do, that there is one lakefront and it is for everyone and must be preserved as open space for future generations.

Camille Blachowicz, Linda Damashek, Betty Ester, Jerri Garl, Bob and Barbara Janes, Jeanne Lindwall, Sigrid Pilgrim, Mary and Tim Rosinski and Charles Smith, members of Evanston Parks and Lakefront Alliance