City Council met on a rare Tuesday, May 26, pushed off its regular Monday meeting time by the Memorial Day holiday. In prior years, Council met on another Tuesday to accommodate the annual Township meeting’s statutorily required meeting date. But with no more Township government, which was dissolved by the voters last year, only holidays can nudge Council off its accustomed Monday for regular meetings.
Combined with a Rules Committee and a Harley Clark Committee meeting the following week, Council addressed a series of “greatest hits” while touching on some newer issues.
The greatest hits started with 2013’s Drone Moratorium, scheduled to expire under its own power this month. The moratorium, when passed, prohibited the use of drones in the City out of fears of invasion of privacy and government overreaching. In essence, though, the moratorium applied to the City only, and both Barnes & Noble and Radio Shack prominently displayed drones for sale in their Church Street windows.
Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, who was the moratorium’s Council sponsor, said, “I think a lot has happened [since 2013] at the federal and state level.” Public safety and privacy issues have been addressed, and law enforcement’s use of drones is now governed by an Illinois law championed by Evanston’s state senator Daniel Biss, she said.
As such, Evanston’s drone moratorium is no more.
Development on Howard Street once again came before Council, with a new St. Francis Federally Qualified Health Clinic moving in at 1719-1723 Howard St. The clinic relocates from its previous location on Clark Street a few hundred yards south of Howard Street. The use is proper in its zoning district; the matter came to Council because of a requested slight reduction in mandated parking spaces.
“I am very much opposed to this use at this location,” said Alderman Ann Rainey, whose 8th Ward includes the Evanston side of Howard Street. Ald. Rainey has long championed sustainable commercial development along Howard and scored recent successes with Ward 8 cocktail lounge and Peckish Pig. “Now we have this [clinic] on Howard Street, in a commercial district and I just wish it were not there,” she said.
The owner purchased a neighboring building just for parking, and promises to bus employees from St. Francis itself to free up all on-site parking for patients. Ald. Rainey praised the parking solution, and reluctantly added, “I’m going to support the ZBA decision and we’ll just move on, and hopefully they’ll be good neighbors.”
The Preservation Commission’s oversight over Northwestern campus building projects, controversial when the Commission vetoed the new Visitor’s Center and parking deck on Sheridan only to be overruled by City Council, returned. Council voted to remove that oversight and offer instead an advisory role, but only for projects within 250 feet of Sheridan Road.
Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, was the only alderman to object. She argued that the public meeting process should be maintained, and the Preservation Commission’s meetings are public. “I don’t see the problem that actually created this need,” she said. She warned of “more parking structures on the boundaries” of campus in the future.
Council members chose to remove Preservation Commission authority, though. Now, Northwestern projects proceed through the Design and Project Review committee only. DPR is composed of City Staff only, and the Preservation Commission’s chair, Carlos Ruiz, is only an advisory member. Council voted to elevate Mr. Ruiz to a voting member of the committee for all matters with a preservation component. Residents may look for that adjustment to DPR’s organizing ordinance soon.
Three other projects long in the works returned. The Ecology Center’s decrepit greenhouse will soon become additional classroom space. The project has been in the City’s plans for several years, with the City seemingly waiting for the right design and budget flexibility to complete it. The Evanston Environmental Association’s commitment to contribute $43,000 toward the $192,959 project, plus a simplified design, ultimately won the day. “This is a really nice project,” said Ald. Rainey.
The City’s shift to “virtual desktops,” begun last year with the purchase of Dell computer equipment allowing City staff to link to a small box rather than a bulky desktop computer, continued with the vote to purchase licenses allowing the replacement of 300 more desktops throughout all departments at a cost just under $300,000. New to the program: employees can bring in their own personal laptop or tablet to link into the virtual desktop.
Jose Calderon, the City’s Technology Division Manager, said 18 employees currently bring in their own device, but they are hoping for more. Any device will work on the virtual desktop, he said.
The Chiaravalle School renovation project, which began with the City selling property to the Montessori school prior to renovation and now nears conclusion, returned, with the City chipping in more than $278,000 toward the renovation of adjacent Currey Park, which the City owns. Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons said the City decided to renovate the entire park rather than sticking to the original plan. Money has been sitting in escrow for nearly five years for renovations, he said, but plans have shifted. The City now plans a cut-out on Hinman Avenue for student drop-off, rather than the original drop-off planned for Dempster Street.
Harley Clarke Committee to Present Five OptionsThe City’s Harley Clarke subcommittee finished its public work on June 1, and all that remains is the presentation of their report to the full City Council on June 8. After meeting for several months, gathering community input via surveys and public meetings, and narrowing the possibilities for the now vacant mansion to five choices, the committee will turn the decision over to City Council.
Subcommittee Chair Steve Hagerty called the ultimate decision one of values. Council must decide which values are most important: public access, historic preservation, economic development, environmental concerns, stewardship of City resources, or preservation of green space.
The five options include demolition of the building to preserve green space and add park area; sale or lease to a private developer for renovation as a boutique hotel or other use; renovation by the City for use for City programming or as an event space; sale or lease to another government or nonprofit entity for renovation; or sale to a private developer for demolition and conversion into a subdivision of single family homes.
The subcommittee could reach only very limited consensus. By vote they agreed that public access to the beach and dunes must be preserved. They also agreed that the subdivision concept was not a preferred option.
The matter will soon be in City Council’s hands.