A disjointed and somewhat confusing mid-summer City Council meeting on July 11 began with only two Council members at the dais for the Administration and Public Works Committee meeting. “We do not have a quorum,” announced Ninth Ward Alderman Brian Miller, who chairs the committee. Though the committee of two, Ald. Miller and Eighth Ward Alderman Ann Rainey heard public comment concerning issues on the agenda, the meeting was effectively canceled.

All matters on the agenda were simply forwarded to the full City Council, meeting later the same evening, without discussion or recommendation.

Roundup Presentation Postponed

Also postponed was a presentation from City staff “on the use of certain pesticides on City property.” City CFO Marty Lyons suggested Council postpone the presentation until July 25. “I really object to that,” said Ald. Rainey. “The longer we wait, the more pesticides get sprayed.” She suggested the full council hear the presentation, but apparently it was postponed, as no reference was made to it at the Council meeting.

The Planning and Development committee had three items on the agenda – and a quorum. With seven members to the A&PW’s four, the larger Committee can absorb two absences.

First and easiest was the subdivision of 1900-1904 Asbury Ave. into two lots. Formerly the law offices of former Second Ward alderman and now judge Lionel Jean-Baptiste, the lot at the corner of Asbury Avenue and Emerson Street already has two buildings and two addresses. The measure passed easily at committee and then on the consent agenda at Council.

Outsourcing Notice

Next came a proposed modification of the notice requirements for planning and zoning cases. Currently, the City provides notice to property owners within a certain distance (between 250 feet and 1,000 feet, depending on the proposed changes) by mail. The new ordinance would outsource the notice requirement to a third party – likely the Blueprint Shoppe of Evanston – and bill the applicant for the cost of such mailings.

“Why is it that we cannot just leave this to the applicant?” asked Ald. Rainey. “They do in other places.”

“We want to be sure notice is provided,” said Director of Community Development Mark Muenzer. The City wants to keep staff in the loop but limit staff time. The current procedure requires staff to look up addresses, determine the number of notices to be sent, and deliver them – a substantial time outlay. If the new ordinance passes, the vendor will directly bill applicant such that all the City needs to do is review delivery confirmation from the vendor.

The measure passed without debate on the consent agenda at Council.

Controversy about 1815 Ridge

More controversial was the introduction of the planned development at the former National School Towel site on Ridge Avenue just south of Emerson Street. The proposal for a 10-story, 163-unit senior living facility brought out a number of across-the-street neighbors to protest.

The project had already changed since leaving the Plan Commission, with a lower height and a shift in the type of rooms that will be offered. Less square footage and lower height results in fewer “independent living” apartments, and more assisted-living units. The reason: Kitchens are not required in assisted-living rooms.

Other tweaks to the room distribution were also presented. All in all, Council introduced the measure without much debate, setting the stage for a longer discussion before a vote on final passage, likely at the July 25 Council meeting.

Compensation Vote Held

At the City Council meeting, Ald. Rainey asked that all items concerning the compensation of elected officials be held until Aug. 1. Because Council has plenty of time to adopt an ordinance before its deadline – state law requires compensation be set 180 days prior to seating, or about Oct. 15 – Council readily agreed. Compensation has proven controversial this time around, with both Ald. Rainey and City Clerk Rodney Greene taking issue with the recommendations made by the compensation committee. 

When it came time for the consent agenda, Ald. Rainey refused to include the Administration and Public Works items. In the end, all items except the Central-to-Isabella alley next to Ryan Field and the agreement to look for buyers for the library parking lot were passed by consent. Items included increases in a bus contract for summer transportation, which jumped by nearly 50% (from about $51,000 to $74,400) to cover bus trips to Six Flags Great America. The trips are for employees of the park as part of the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment program.

Also, library parking upgrades to “remedy the deterioration of the floors and the garage drainage system” would cost about $166,000.

Money for Next Phase of Fountain Square

The next phase of the Fountain Square redesign, incorporating the preferred design, was on the agenda, but never discussed. About $400,000 in design costs was approved. As the contracts for the actual construction work come before Council after design and engineering services have been completed, perhaps Council and the public will address the issue more thoroughly.

Water Plant Upgrades Sail Through

Water plant upgrades at an estimated cost of $1.25 million were never read or discussed. The contract is contingent on the City obtaining a low interest loan from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. The good news: the bid came in lower than expected. The loan sought will be for about $1.7 million including a cushion, but the City expected to be looking for closer to $2.5 million.

The usual slew of liquor license issues followed, but all of them were just for introduction, and all follow the usual pattern of a few added here, a few lost there. Of note – the loss of the Davis Street Fish Market license, due to the closing of the restaurant.