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In a twist from the anticipated storyline, neighbors from an adjacent neighborhood gathered at the March 14 City Council meeting to say positive things about a proposed Northwestern University project.
Rather than attack the proposal the neighbors almost universally praised the University for its cooperation and willingness to make adjustments to the plans to replace the parking lot next to Ryan Field on Central Street west of Ashland Avenue, based upon concerns raised.
“Over 90% of the neighbors are thrilled with what’s going on,” said neighborhood spokesperson Laurie MacFarland.
Neighbors also singled out newly installed Alderman Eleanor Revelle, whose 7th Ward includes the project site and the affected neighborhoods, for her efforts in bringing the parties together.
Two changes to the original plan stood out. First, the new project will include a wall that extends along the entire western edge of the parking lot. Currently, the parking lot has an exit in the middle of the lot onto the alley that runs between Central Street at Mustard’s Last Stand and Isabella Street. Ms. McFarland said neighbors had “mixed feelings” about the continuous wall because many like to use the passages now, but “it became clear that [the wall] was the right solution. … ‘Good fences make good neighbors,’” and with the fence separating the Northwestern parking lot from the neighborhood, the neighbors are “likely to keep liking” the University.
Security concerns, which led to the wall, fed into the second major change agreed to by Northwestern: decreasing the lights on the lot.
One reason for the brighter lights was the exit to the alley. Security of pedestrians at likely locations of pedestrian-vehicle interaction created a need for more and brighter lighting, said Northwestern’s vice president in charge of facilities management John D’Angelo.
Initially, light levels were planned at one foot-candle (one lumen per square foot) from each light pole. The removal of the mid-lot exits allowed the University to reduce light intensity on the west side to 0.3 foot-candles. On the east side of the lot, where “traffic-pedestrian interaction” will continue to be an issue, light intensity has still been reduced to 0.5 foot- candles, said Mr. D’Angelo.
Other parking lot features include an increase in capacity to 899 parking stalls, a 30-foot setback along Central Street and 35-foot setback along Isabella Street, improvements to Ashland Avenue, and stormwater retention, including a raingarden in the middle of the lot.
Finally, the University said it will contribute funds toward the cost of improvements to the alley to the west, even though access from lot to alley will be cut off. “Our intent is not to have the neighbors pay a special assessment” for the alley, said Mr. D’Angelo.
“I’d like this to come back” to the Administration and Public Works Committee for approval of alley costs, said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward.
One neighbor couple expressed reservations, but their concerns appeared to be outside the scope of the project as presented. Robert and Susan Melchior complained of buses constantly idling in the parking lot.
“They have control of the parking lot. This just has to stop,” he said.
Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, called for more information on the bus issue.
They were the exception to the general rule on this night, though. As resident after resident stood up to praise Northwestern, however, Council took notice. “This might be a historical occasion,” said Ald. Rainey. “I’ve never seen so many happy neighbors.” The measure passed unanimously.