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The Harley Clarke mansion, along with a couple of other hot-ticket items, filled Council chambers on June 26. Dozens of residents lined up to address Council and express their concerns and recommendations. In the end, though, Council largely put off controversial matters for later meetings, leaving mostly day-to-day items for substantive votes.
Efforts to regulate drones, a third party’s efforts to assign landmark status to a building owned by another, and the regulation of private generators were all postponed or tabled. An ordinance banning coal-tar sealants was introduced, but will be debated on its second reading with more information in hand.
First, drones. A proposed ordinance would all but ban the use of “small unmanned aircraft,” including drones, in Evanston parks and many other places by requiring the consent of the property owner. The proposal ran into questions on two counts.
First, a speaker from South Elgin, Keith Kmieciak, said the ordinance violated the Federal Aviation Administration’s exclusive right to regulate airspace. Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, seemed to find his argument persuasive. “It seems like regulations come from higher up,” she said.
Ald. Rainey also said “obnoxious” drone users were not likely to be dissuaded by an Evanston ordinance. “I don’t think I can support it,” she concluded.
Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, took a different approach, saying she received no complaints at all about drone use in the First Ward. She wondered why the City would pass an ordinance when few if any problems had occurred.
However Alderman Melissa Wynn, 3rd Ward, recommended the ordinance because a resident was buzzed by a drone in a park, and when the operator was asked to stop he did not, but rather escalated his activities, she said. She also said residents complained of drones outside condo windows at Main Street and Chicago Avenue, sometimes as high as seven floors up. “This has happened at least four times,” she said.
With Alds. Fiske and Rainey appearing poised to vote no, Ald. Wynne moved to hold the ordinance in order to provide more information on both the FAA exclusivity and drone activity. Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, seconded, and by rule the matter was held until the next meeting.
The efforts of neighbors to forcibly assign landmark status to a building owned by the Sigma Chi Foundation was tabled on the motion of Ald. Rainey. Sigma Chi opposes landmark status and has announced plans to demolish the house at 1726 Hinman Ave., forcing a battle over the significance of the structure and its architect, John A. Nyden.
The matter will return for a full hearing at Council’s Aug. 14 meeting. The rules of the Preservation Commission require the matter to be addressed within 120 days, and Council was assured the Aug. 14 date fell within that period. Coincidentally, Sigma Chi owned the Harley Clarke Mansion between 1951 and 1963, and the fraternity has expressed interest in re-acquiring the building. Perhaps a proposal will arrive at the City in response to the July 10 RFP.
City staff, in response to questions from the Planning and Development Committee earlier in June, decided to punt on an effort to regulate generators. Rather than adjust the proposed ordinance, staff recommended that Council simply “receive and file” revised ordinance 7-O-17. “Staff will continue to work on this Ordinance to address the location and noise regulations associated with generators,” read the staff memo.
Of concern are generators at large public facilities such as hospitals. Health and safety trump noise concerns, and the Committee appeared reluctant to add regulations without fully understanding their impact – and perhaps unintended consequences. Whether the ordinance ever returns in another form remains to be seen.
As for coal-tar sealant, the City proposed a ban on coal tar pavement sealers in Evanston. The issue, according to supporters of the ban, is that hydrocarbon byproducts can wash off sealed driveways and find their way into the City’s water supply. The City is currently suing Nicor and ComEd, alleging that hydrocarbon byproducts do in fact exist in its water supply, originating not from coal-tar driveway sealants but from waste oil that seeped into Evanston soil from a Skokie natural gas production plant that ceased operating in the 1950s.
Ald. Braithwaite asked about the “economic impact” of the ban and the impact on “future road repairs.”
Dave Stoneback, the City’s Public Works Agency Director, said the City does not use any coal- tar products in road repairs, and residents cannot buy it at commercial retailers like Home Depot. “There are some contractors who might use it to seal off a parking lot,” he said. “The majority do not use it, but there are some” who might.
The matter was introduced unanimously, and will return for final vote in two weeks.
On to matters that actually passed. A delayed legal bill for advice provided to then-City Clerk Rodney Greene about election timelines will be paid. On the suggestion of Aldermen Tom Suffredin, 6th Ward, and Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, the matter had been held for more information. After reviewing the advice provided regarding a confusing election season, Council agreed to pay the $3,545 bill.
We have lead in some of our drinking fountains, said Mr. Stoneback. The City tested 59 fountains and results showed 10 fountains with lead at more than 15 parts per billion (ppb).Those fountains have been shut down and will be replaced.
Five fountains registered lead readings even though they had copper pipe service lines. It turns out meters and valves within the plumbing components have lead content.
Fountains are tricky, said Mr. Stoneback, because they sit without use for long periods of time. The phosphate the City uses to coat pipes and prevent lead seepage may not work when water does not flow regularly, he said.
Ultimately, the City “would like to get to no detectable lead in all of our water fountains,” Mr. Stoneback said. Eleven fountains tested showed between 5 and 15 ppb, and others showed trace amounts. Fountains over 15 ppb will be replaced this year, those between 5 and 15 ppb in 2018, and all others with detectable lead levels in 2019. The average cost of a new fountain is between $25,000 and $30,000, he said.
Skokie will continue to get Evanston water for at least three more months. “There is value in our water, and they are not paying full value. And that’s a fact,” said Ald. Rainey. “Somebody will determine what they have to pay,” either a judge or the parties through agreement.
Evanston has a number of water customers, each of which pays for water based on a formula taking into account not just the water but the infrastructure used to pump and deliver the water. For decades, Skokie has paid based on a flat rate. For now, the Village pays $1.07 per 1,000 gallons.
City CFO Marty Lyons said progress had been made in negotiations. “At some point we have to stop extending them,” said Ald. Rainey. That point, if it comes, will be October at the earliest.
The City is evaluating possibly shifting the administration of the real estate transfer tax and passport services from the City Clerk’s office to the City. Such a shift, if taken, will require legislative action. Council voted on the consent agenda to authorize City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz to evaluate reorganization and return to Council within 60 days with ordinance amendments.