Harley Clarke mansionPhoto by Mary Mumbrue

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Before a restive audience of about 50 people, members of the Harley Clarke Mansion Committee discussed R-1 special uses and permitted uses, costs to repair and rehab the building, the possibility or futility of trying to create or expand a park district, and how the committee would present their final recommendations to the public.

So far the committee has discussed options that fall loosely into three categories, said committee member Amina Di Marco: demolishing the building and keeping the property as open space; preserving the building for public, private or public-private use; and selling the building and the property.

Zoning

The City’s zoning code allows single-family and two-family homes, adult and child daycare homes, public educational institutions, Category I residential care homes, home occupations and parks. Special uses can be granted for cemeteries, child residential care homes, adult and child daycare centers, private educational institutions, planned developments, public utilties, religious institutions, and Category II residential care homes and transitional treatment facilities.

With the mansion on the property, there could be as many as six single-family-home lots; without the mansion, the number could be nine, committee members said.

Repair Costs

For the last three years, several so-called estimates have been bandied about, varying from hundreds of thousands of dollars to several million, and it appeared at the April 15 meeting that the committee was homing in on what it would cost to repair the mansion: $170,000 to cure the life-safety issues and $590,000 to make it safe for occupancy.

“The most important critical piece is $170,000,” Public Works Director Suzette Robinson told the committee. “The second number is bringing it up to the level of our rec centers.”

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said $600,000 is “what it would take for anyone to occupy the mansion on any reasonable basis.”

Both Mr. Bobkiewicz and Ms. Robinson cautioned the committee that these estimates were based on analyses conducted two or three years ago, with numbers adjusted for increased costs, rather than on current inspections. 

“It’s difficult for us to provide the numbers when we don’t know what the condition [of the building] will be after the Art Center leaves,” said Ms. Robinson.

“Whatever deterioration there has been since 2012, our staff has not been able to evaluate,” Mr. Bobkiewicz said. The $590,000, he said, “is not a number we are happy to provide, because there are too many unknowns.”

The cost to demolish the building and re-grade the land would be $125,000, Mr. Bobkiewicz said.

The City did not provide specific information about the annual maintenance cost to the building nor the utility costs. Ms. Robinson said the City allocates $50,000 per year for annual maintenance of each City-owned building but said “this building takes a lot more maintenance.”

Park District

The City-owned Harley Clarke mansion sits in the City’s Lighthouse Landing Park. Northeast Park, which abuts the City property to the north, and the Grosse Point Light Station, which abuts the City property on the south, are both owned and operated by Lighthouse Park District,  a separate, overlay, taxing district that maintains two other parks in Evanston.

Should Lighthouse Park District wish to expand and to purchase the City-owned property, that would have to be accomplished by referendum, said Jeanne Lindwall, an Evanston resident and urban planner.

Unlike the City, which has no separate park district and can raise taxes as the City Council chooses, Lighthouse Park District is subject to state-imposed tax caps.

Committee member Garry Shumaker said he felt the park district was a financing option rather than a solution to the question of what to do with the building.

Citizen Comment

Thirteen people spoke during citizen comment, the last portion of the meeting, most in support of keeping the mansion public, and nearly all of them were followed by applause.

Gary Greenberg urged the committee to consider a long-term lease of the property. “I don’t think you should give up that option. … It would be a big mistake [not to consider it]. This is our castle and it can’t be tossed away so lightly.

Maureen Lithgow said she “strongly urges the public use.”

Speaking for the Southeast Evanston Association (SEA), Ted Glasoe said that organization “strongly endorses the Central Street Neighbors Association position. The economy won’t always be bad, and some day the City will have more money.”

Anita Remijas, president of the Woman’s Club of Evanston, said the club covers its expenses with private funding and private events.

In response to a question from resident Mark White, Seventh Ward Alderman and committee member Jane Grover said that the group from Evanston that traveled to Springfield on April 14 had met with Wayne Blumenthal, the new director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources – which had under the previous administration shown an interest in locating its Coastal Management Program at the mansion – “and he promised he would have his chief of staff get back to the City of Evanston.”

Bill Preston, who said he restores mansions by profession and is currently working on a mansion in Lake Forest, expressed “concern that the numbers being thrown around are excessively high.” He added, “The difference between demolishing the house and restoring the house is not so great.”

“Five professionals now have come forward, stating that the costs put forth by the City of Evanston on its website are excessively high. At $170,000, the cost to each resident would be $2.50. … It’s clear to me that the City wants to rid itself of its own treasure on the lake.”

Mary Rosinksi said, “This is probably the most valuable real estate in Evanston. There’s an attitude that we can’t afford it. … Everyone is scrambling for June 8 [the deadline for the committee to present its recommendations to City Council], but we haven’t done anything for 60 years.”

Next Steps

The public presentation of options for the mansion is scheduled for 7 p.m. on May 18 in the Parasol Room of the Civic Center, and the presentation to City Council is set for June 8.