A group of residents who live adjacent to the proposed water pumping station at 2525 Church Street are continuing to challenge the legality of the proceedings and City Council’s resolution that approved zoning for the project.

On Feb. 12, City Council approved entering into an agreement with the Morton Grove-Niles Water Commission (MGNWC), in which the Commission agreed to construct the water pumping station. The proposed pumping station will receive water from the City’s water treatment facility at Sheridan Road and Lincoln Street, and it will boost the water pressure so the water can be transmitted to Morton Grove and Niles. Under prior agreements, Morton Grove and Niles will pay Evanston a fee to treat and transmit the water.

The MGNWC will pay to construct the pumping station and be the owner of the pumping station, said Dave Stoneback, Director of the City’s Public Works Agency. Evanston will operate the water-pumping station remotely from its water-treatment plant, he added.

The proposed pumping station is located in the City’s OS (Open Space) zoning district. A water-pumping station is not expressly listed as a permitted use in an OS district, but Sec. 6-7-4 contains a “Municipal Use Exemption,” which provides, “Any governmental or proprietary function owned or operated by the City shall be a permitted use in any district.”

Sec. 6-7-4 goes on to say that City Council may approve buildings “owned and operated” by the City that do not comply with all of the requirements of an OS district if, among other things, “the adverse impact on surrounding properties resulting from such noncompliance is minimized.”

On Feb. 12, City Council granted a Municipal Use Exemption to the zoning requirements of the OS District for a water-pumping station to be constructed on the site.

Several adjoining property owners filed an appeal in which they raised numerous points. They argued they were not given adequate notice and a chance to voice their concerns before decisions were made. They also argued that the Municipal Use Exemption did not give City Council authority to approve the Water-pumping station, because the City will not be both the “owner and operator” of the water-pumping station. The City’s legal department held that the Zoning Board of Appeals lacked jurisdiction to hear the appeal.

The adjoining property owners have continued to challenge the project. On June 28, 2018, Jennifer J. Sackett Pohlenz, as attorney for the West End Pumping Station Task Force – comprised of adjacent property owners and other residents, emailed a letter to Michele Masoncup, the City’s Corporation Counsel, and asked for a meeting to see if the parties could reach an amicable resolution of the matter.

The letter asserts that the City’s exempting itself from going through the zoning process and relying on the Municipal Exemption was illegal and a violation of the neighboring property owners’ rights, including their right to notice and a hearing process. She cites the Illinois Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Baltis v. Village of Westchester, in which the Court held, “It is well established that a municipal corporation owning and operating a water system does so in its business or proprietary capacity, and not in any governmental capacity, and that no distinction is to be drawn between such business whether engaged in by a municipality or by a private corporation.”

On July 18, Ms. Pohlenz and several adjoining property owners met with Ms. Masoncup, other City of Evanston officials, representatives of MWRD (the owner of the property), and representatives of MGNWC. Lisa Wiemken told the RoundTable that Ms. Masoncup said the City would not move the pumping station to another location and would not go through a zoning process to seek approval for the project.

When asked to comment on the points raised in Mr. Pohlenz’s letter, Ms. Masoncup told the RoundTable that the City agrees that the pumping station is a proprietary function of the City. She added, “The City did not exempt itself from its own process; in fact, the City followed its own zoning process by conducting a zoning analysis and followed the standard process outlined in the Zoning Code for permitted uses.”

In a July 22 email, the RoundTable asked Ms. Pohlenz whether the West End group claimed that the City lacked authority to adopt Sec. 6-7-4 of the Zoning Code which provides, “Any governmental or proprietary function owned or operated by the City shall be a permitted use in any district,” and to comment on what the neighbors’ next steps would be.

As of the posting of this article, Ms. Pohlenz did not respond.

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...