Although the City Council has taken no formal, public vote, the sentiment on the Council seems to be to sell the Harley Clarke mansion and the coach house to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) to use for its Coastal Management program, while retaining title to the land. Some land would be leased to IDNR in what is commonly called a ground lease.

IDNR’s Coastal Management program is relatively new. According to IDNR, “Illinois joins a total of 29 coastal states and five island territories that have developed [coastal management] programs and represent more than 99.9 percent of the nation’s 95,331 miles of oceanic and Great Lakes coastline.”

Parts of the 63 miles of Lake Michigan shore in Illinois have been ravaged by decades of industrial and commercial use; in other places the shoreline has been kept for the people or is being restored as ecologically as possible.

Referring to the intense use of the lake, IDNR writes, “Lake and Cook counties are currently home to 6 million people and are projected to be home to nearly 6.8 million people by 2030. It is estimated that more than 20 million visitors visit the Lake Michigan shoreline each year. …  Lake Michigan provides water supply to nearly 7 million Illinois residents (over half of the state’s entire population).”

IDNR says it invests in programs that “seek to restore our ecosystems and meet the increasing demands for open space, recreation and public access.” Its stated priorities are addressing invasive species, both on land and in the water; restoring habitats, ecosystems and natural areas; mitigating the toxic remnants from former industries; promoting sustainable development; promoting good storm-water management; and improving public access and recreation along the shore and in the water.  

IDNR has funded projects in Evanston: some of the bicycle paths, for example, and the renovation of the Church Street boat ramp. But we want to know what they will do for us in the future, once they have purchased our mansion.

If Council authorizes the City Manager to negotiate sale of the buildings and a ground lease, we hope he will incorporate as many of these points as possible:

• The land leased should be limited to that near the buildings and not include the front, back or side lawns, the parking lot, the sand dunes or the beach.

•The lease should be for 25-33 years and renewable only if IDNR adheres strictly to all of its terms.

•The lease should not be assignable; no sublease should be allowed.

• IDNR should be required to rehab the buildings, since the sale is premised on IDNR’s need to own the buildings in order to obtain funds to do the rehab.

• The buildings must be maintained to City standards of preservation and property maintenance.

• The buildings must be kept for public use; IDNR should not be allowed to sell the buildings.

• The buildings should automatically revert to the City if and when IDNR has no more use for it.

• IDNR’s use of any Evanston beaches or parks must be approved by City Council after public input. Any such use must be in conformance with the Lakefront Master Plan.

• Evanston residents should be assured that some spaces for classes and activities offered by IDNR will be reserved for public school students and other Evanstonians.

• No permanent structures should be put up in the parks, at the beaches or on the sand. IDNR must obtain approval from City Council before it erects temporary structures of any kind.

• Any changes to the dunes, the shorefront or the lakefront habitat must be approved by City Council, with input from the Evanston Environmental Association and possibly other local organizations.

We hope that IDNR will receive these suggestions as clear but friendly demarcations between what will become theirs and what will remain ours.  We offer them as fences – the kind that make good neighbors – as we welcome IDNR’s Coastal Management Program to our City.