Council returned to the days of meetings that stretch long into the night with a set of meetings on Sept. 12, lasting past 11:30 p.m. Unlike the contentious and bitter days of old, however, the meeting felt like local democracy at work, with issues debated and decisions made, such as the next steps for the Harley Clarke mansion and the Dodge Avenue bike lanes and a number of other items in between.

The fate of the Harley Clarke mansion has been twisting in the slowly moving Council winds for more than five years and was “tabled” as an issue in recent months pending a state budget resolution. The issue always brings out the crowds, and Sept. 12 was no exception. The difference this time, though, was that the crowd seemed satisfied with the Council’s direction – to put some City money into the place, use it for City-sponsored programs for a year, and come up with a plan for use by 2017.

Harley Clarke Mansion

The request made earlier by Seventh Ward Alderman Eleanor Revelle to open the mansion for a single day last month to allow interested parties to inspect it paid dividends, as the funding necessary to make the building usable for City programming turned out to be far less than estimated by City staff in years past. Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said the funds needed are less than his initial proposal made last year. He amended an earlier proposal, halving the amount of City funding from $500,000 to $250,000 as a result.

The Council vote was unanimous in favor of allocating the money for the mansion. While the residents who attended the meeting were satisfied, not all on the dais were elated. “I see your proposal as saving the mansion for the time being,” said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward. “This is a money pit the City really can’t afford.” She called for a public-private partnership to take over the building once it is stabilized. She also speculated that the fact 2017 was an election year factored into the decision.

Ald. Wilson, for his part, recognized his proposal as something other than a permanent solution. To those thinking of “restoring it to its grandeur, that’s not what I’m talking about.” He said his proposal sought to “preserve it … not restore but stabilize it so it does not fall into further disrepair.”

Dodge Avenue Bike Lanes

The Dodge Avenue bike lanes are another issue that evokes comment. The City completed work on the newly configured protected bike lanes earlier this year, and the new lanes have both fans and detractors. One previous meeting features a room full of speakers opposed to the lanes; one week later a parade of speakers in favor of the lanes addressed Council.

On Sept. 12, both camps were present – and appeared to be roughly evenly divided. Speakers spoke respectfully and civilly long into the evening, and Mayor Pro Tem Don Wilson, sitting in for Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl who was traveling, allowed more latitude and a relaxed time limit that seemed to encourage civility. Everyone was heard – and the Council listened.

When the
public had spoken, Council agreed that changes needed to be made, but that the bike lanes were here to stay. “The comments made by those who support the bike lanes were very important,” said Ald. Rainey. “It is important that bike lanes work for everyone.” She summarized the problems the configuration caused – “no place for buses to go, no place for vehicles to yield to emergency vehicles. There’s no place to go. It’s a total jam up. There’s no place for anyone to go. It’s great for cyclists – I agree. It’s great.

“The thing that has to happen immediately – we have to remove those bollards. They have got to go. You overdid it,” she said to City staff. Bollards are the white posts between the parked cars and the bike lane. The can be removed, and those on the Church Street and Davis Street bike lanes are removed during the winter; presumably that would have occurred on the Dodge Avenue lanes.

Consensus emerged, and staff agreed to begin removing bollards the next day. A press release from the City indicated that more than 100 bollards were taken down by Sept. 13.

Issues regarding the bus routes remain to be determined. Lara Biggs, the City’s superintendence of capital projects said the CTA contacted the City asking for a reduced number of bus stops along Dodge. “They are asking that bus stops be eliminated on one-eighth mile and go to one-fourth mile to meet their standards,” she said. They also ask “for 80 feet of clearance. In most cases, two additional parking spots” would have to be taken out to allow 80 feet. In some cases, though, as many as five spots would have to go.

“That’s a lot. That’s a lot for the residents,” said Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward. He called for a detailed report on the parking spaces. Ms. Biggs said the CTA does not act quickly, and the City does not expect a response on the bus stops before spring. She said staff would return with parking details and proposed tweaks well before the CTA came knocking again.

824-28 Noyes St.

A planned development at 824-828 Noyes was introduced despite concerns over parking issues. The 44-unit building will retain the original foundation but build up and back creating an equal mix of studio, one-, two- and three- bedroom spaces situated on the CTA tracks across from the Noyes Purple Line stop.

Alderman Judy Fiske 1st ward, spoke against the project citing parking concerns. Barbara Janes, a frequent Council speaker, presented “six-plus pages of petitions with some of the concerns that neighbors have” including a “convoluted question of the property taxes.”

Parking was the overriding theme, though, and with very limited parking on site – just 35 spaces for 44 units and extremely limited on street parking options – Council said it needed more information. “It doesn’t sound like we’re going to resolve the parking issue tonight,” said Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward.

“I’m interested to see what additional information we’re going to get on parking,” said Ald. Wilson. Options include the lot under the CTA tracks, where overnight parking in permitted, and the Noyes Cultural Arts Center lot, where it is not. The measure was introduced 8-1, with Ald. Fiske voting no. Staff now has time to present parking options before a final vote in coming weeks.

Elected Official’s Salaries

Another item percolating over recent weeks came to conclusion as Council voted to set compensation for itself and the clerk for the term beginning April 2017. In July, Council voted unanimously to increase the Mayor’s stipend by 23%, but did not increase aldermen’s salaries.

On Sept. 12, Council voted itself the same 23% increase, bumping the alderman’s stipend from $12,990 to $15,990. Unlike the mayoral-compensation vote, however, three voted against the aldermanic increase and Aldermen Melissa Wynne, 3rd ward and Brian Miller, 9th Ward spoke against it.

City Clerk Rodney Greene made a presentation protesting an implication in the compensation committee’s report. The committee recommended increasing clerk’s pay at the same rate as City non-union employees, set to increase at most by the cost of living in 2017. The clerk is an elected official, not an employee, Clerk Greene reminded Council.

Ald. Miller proposed a set annual percentage increase bumping clerk pay by 3% per year during the coming term. His motion failed for want of a second.

Ald. Wilson was next with a surprise proposal to bump the clerk’s pay by a flat $10,000 per year and hold it at that rate for all four years. His motion passed unanimously.

“Mine was cheaper,” said Ald. Miller.

The clerk’s pay will move from about $54,000 to over $64,000 per year next term.