There were more people than chairs at the May 18 public presentation of options for the Harley Clarke mansion, 2603 Sheridan Road, as a crowd of about 150 found standing room in the Civic Center’s Parasol Room.

The City-owned mansion, coach house, parkland and lakefront property, home to the Evanston Art Center for more than 40 years, could be shuttered in June, when the Art Center relocates to its new home at 1717 Central St.

The next iteration of the building – or the property, if the building is sold – could likely be as circuitous as its path from private home to fraternity house to local landmark housing the Art Center.

Strong feelings about preserving and restoring the building – whether by a private or a public enterprise – are competing with a desire to see the City garner some revenue from the place and with opposition to selling a City asset.

Zoning and Ownership

Complicating some proposals for developing the property as a commercial/private space are the underlying zoning and the striated ownership of the property that stretches from the Grosse Point Lighthouse to Lawson Park. The City owns the property on which the mansion sits and the property on which Lawson Park, with Noah’s playground, sits. The Lighthouse Park District, a separate entity from the City, owns the area around the lighthouse and a strip north of the parking lot.

The property is zoned OS, open space, and the underlying zoning is for R-1, residential. The City’s zoning code for R-1 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 utilities, 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.

The Harley Clarke Mansion Committee – Steve Hagerty, chair, Garry Shumaker, Linda Damashak, Dawn Davis-Zeinemann, Amina DiMarco and Aldermen Jane Grover and Ann Rainey – appointed by Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl earlier this year, was charged with soliciting, examining and developing ideas for the future of the mansion and presenting them to City Council. The committee decided at the outset not to consider any proposals that would block public access to the beach or the lake.

In their deliberations, the committee members found that the many suggestions they had received by email or in public comment fell roughly into five categories, and the May 18 meeting allowed the committee to present these options to the public.

The Options, Pro and Con

The five options are 1) having the City retain the building and rehab it, presented by Sheila Sullivan on behalf of the Southeast Evanston Association (SEA); 2) selling the property for commercial use, presented by Peter Green; 3) selling the property for development consistent with the City’s R-1 zoning, presented by Chris Oakley; 4) gifting the building to an entity that would maintain it for public use, presented by Patrick Donnelly and Dave Jennett  and 5) demolishing the building and using the property for additional park land, presented by Mr. Hagerty in the absence of a volunteer to speak for that option.

After the presentations, residents gathered in small groups to suggest reasons in opposition of each presentation. Mr. Hagerty gave examples of these “cons” near the end of the meeting. Some of the “pros” and the “cons” are listed below:

Option 1, City retains and rehabs the building for public use

 Pro: Will provide the broadest public use; can be used for recreational, cultural or educational purposes; City needs this type of space; renovation is affordable; building and grounds are worth restoring. “Commercial or restricted access would break up the flow of the property.”

Con: People do not believe the City has enough money to do this.

Option 2, City sells the property for commercial use

Pro: A bed-and-breakfast of 15-18 rooms; a boutique hotel of 50 rooms; a food-and-beverage space for up to 100 people; a restaurant or 75-150 people. Profits would allow renovation; 10-46 jobs would be created; real estate, hotel tax and liquor tax revenues would be generated.

“Hospitality creates the benefits of restoring the mansion, generating taxes, maintaining public access and creating jobs.”

Con: Selling it for commercial use represents a slippery slope, that other parkland or lakefront land would be sold for commercial development.

Option 3, City sells the property for R-1 development

Pro: Senior housing would incorporate the mansion and the coach house, with a 2 ½ story addition on the south side of the mansion; renovation of mansion; possibility of a lakefront path between the mansion and Northwestern’s lakefill, if private residences and the Univeristy give permission; not a lot of parking required. Senior housing is not a permitted use under R-1 zoning, but with a planned development the City could put restrictions on the project.

Con: (same as for #2); Selling it for commercial use represents a slippery slope, that other parkland  or lakefront land would be sold for commercial development.

Option 4, City gifts the property for public use

Pro: mansion is renovated, gardens restored; property remains public for educational and cultural uses; possibility of a café; annual events and occasional rental of space for special events, which would generate revenue; owned and operated by the now-forming Harley Clarke Foundation; private money can be raised. “We ask for your enthusiasm.”

Con: There are doubts that a community group can raise the necessary money.

Option 5 (City razes the building)

Pro: City could use more parkland; City does not have the financial resources to maintain the building; possibility of ad-hoc or “pop-up” events.

Con: This is a City asset, part of the fabric of the community. Selling it for commercial use represents a slippery slope, that other parkland or lakefront land would be sold for commercial development.

Those who attend the public presentation were asked to fill out a survey ranking their preferences for the options. The survey will also be available on the Harley Clark mansion page of City’s website, cityofevanston.org, through May 31.

The survey results, along with summaries of the presentations, pro and con, will also be on that page.

City Council is scheduled to hear the committee’s report at its June 8 meeting.