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Change is afoot in the City of Evanston, and often change can be tough for residents to swallow. The May 9 City Council meeting brought about the type of proposed changes, for the most part, that residents could get behind. At least, this time, the change did not bring about major protests.

New Website for the City

First, the City is about to get a new website. The good news here is that residents seem largely pleased with the current website. Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said she received some “interesting email … liking that our staff had designed a nice website.” Why, she asked, was the City looking to an outside contractor to design the new website?

Assistant City Manager Erika Storlie said the current website “has outlived its usefulness. She cited the “nature of how people view websites,” with a shift away from computer usage and toward mobile devices.

Also, the website “hosting will be with the vendor rather than hosted in-house” at the City, Ms. Storlie said. The threat of computer-hacking attacks drove this decision, as the City says it views remote hosting as safer.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, cautioned against an overly limited mobile friendly website. “Sometimes the mobile website is a little too streamlined,” she said.

Ms. Storlie said the City will endeavor to find the “happy medium to try and strike that balance” between “difficult to use on a mobile device” and “too shrunken and limited.” Vision Internet will charge about $45,000 in 2016 and $10,000 in 2017 for design and hosting services.

Alley Paving

Alley paving came next, with a number of residents seeking faster alley paving in the Sixth Ward. “Why are we facing this problem now?” asked Lara Biggs, the Bureau Chief in charge of capital planning. “For years it was tough to get residents on board. It’s different now.”

The City budgets $500,000 per year to alley paving, and paves on a 50-50 shared basis with the property owners abutting each alley. Residents must petition the City and convince more than half of property owners on each alley to sign the petition. Once a petition has 50% plus one signatures, the petition can be presented.

The City then puts the alley on a list of alleys to be paved on a first-approved, first-paved basis. As of now, the waiting list is already several years long. Council was asked how to address the backlog, with increased taxes as one possibility.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, proposed a different solution. “Instead of a $600,000 alley, we should figure out how to do a $50,000 alley,” she said. Including drainage adds to the cost, she acknowledged, and improved drainage is one of the primary benefits of a paved alley.  

There did not appear to be much appetite for raising taxes or fees, however. “We need to sell more water to pay for alleys,” said Ald. Wynne.

Water Tank

The new water tank project saw engineering costs escalate from about $225,000 to about $445,000 through a change order and contract amendment. The reason, according to the staff memo and Public Works Director Dave Stoneback, was “the project included a preliminary design study to evaluate alternatives in further detail before the project scope was finalized.” The City decided “to award only design and bidding services initially and amend … the contract at the conclusion of design to add construction services.” The amendment and change order were all according to plan, according to staff.

Decks

An ordinance changing the way the City zoning department looks at decks was introduced without controversy this time. The Plan Commission wrestled with how to calculate impervious surface coverage when faced with a wooden deck. The change will “allow uncovered deck sin the rear yard up to 3% of lot area and with permeable surface underneath to be excluded from building lot coverage and impervious surface coverage.” Covering more than 3% of the lot area would count toward impervious-surface coverage. The compromise, if passed, will bring clarity to a review process than has, up to now, been anything but clear.

Relocated Dog Beach

At City Council meeting, Parks Director Lawrence Hemingway announced a relocated dog beach, just south of the previous location. The City dredges its boat launch every year, and this year took dredged sand and spread it over the rocks just south of the boat launch – instant beach. Dogs previously roamed a beach just north of the boat launch, but rising lake levels have all but eliminated that once sandy expanse. The new beach, if plans permit and the sand stays, is slated to open over Memorial Day weekend, said Mr. Hemingway.

St. Mary’s Roof

Finally, the City reached a compromise over the St. Mary’s Parish Center Building roof. The Preservation Commission had refused to enter a Certificate of Appropriateness permitting the landmarked building to replace its existing red clay tile roof with asphalt shingles. The Church protested, citing both the prohibitive cost and the fact that clay tile is not appropriate for a Chicago area climate.

Council sympathized with the church, but sought a compromise – something in between clay tile and the rather stark change to run of the mill shingles. A compromise was found. The church will use clay tile on the main roof facing Lake Street, but use stone-coated metal tile on the chapel on the rear of the building.

The compromise passed by 5-2 vote (Aldermen Judy Fiske and Brian Miller were absent). The church will save about $50,000 as a result.