City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the group Evanston Lighthouse Dunes (ELD) concerning the potential demolition of the Harley Clarke mansion, 2603 Sheridan Road. Evanston Lighthouse Dunes is an ad-hoc group of residents, many of whom live near the property, who are funding the demolition project.

In the MOU, Evanston Lighthouse Dunes offers “to provide the City of Evanston funding needed to pay for costs associated with demolishing the mansion and coach house, grading the property and performing “deferred maintenance (landscaping)” to “restore the Subject Property to its natural state.” 

The MOU describes “Natural Site Restoration,” as demolition, treescape restoration and/or removal of trees, grade and seed the land, and site restoration.

ELD will provide $400,000 for Natural Site Restoration. The MOU provides that if the bids for the Natural Site Restoration bring the total cost to more than $400,000, “ELD will deposit the additional funds necessary within 120 days of the receipt of the selected bid.” Under the MOU, “Failure to deposit the additional funds voids the MOU, and all funds will be refunded.” 

Mr. Bobkiewicz told the RoundTable the group gave the City $260,000 on Aug. 27, the day he signed the MOU. These funds and others will be held until it is necessary to pay the costs.

ELD is relying on estimated costs from Taylor Excavating ($298,672 and, Nels Johnson ($16,245). Additional “procurement costs” of $73,350 bring the total estimated cost of the project to $388,267. Should there be an “over-donation” of funds, the MOU provides the City will retain the funds for landscaping and other costs. In addition, the MOU provides that ELD will provide an additional $100,000 for landscaping 30 days after the building is demolished. 

Demolition Procedure

The MOU is “contingent on the City of Evanston [sic] approving the demolition of the mansion and coach house.” The City may have to jump through some hoops of its own making, because the mansion is a contributing structure to the Northeast Evanston Historic District and is thus listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The City, therefore, must apply to the City’s Preservation Commission for a certificate of appropriateness for the demotion. The MOU states that the parties understand that “City Council must adopt a resolution approving the City Manager or his designee to file an application for a certificate of appropriateness for the demolition with the Evanston Preservation Commission. (Sec. 2-8-8(C)).”

It thus appears that the issue will need City Council’s approval before going forward. The Commission needs to be convinced that structure is “beyond repair,” said City Preservation Coordinator Carlos Ruiz. 

Should the Preservation Commission deny the application, the City Council itself will have the final say and could approve the certificate of appropriateness anyway. The same is true of the two alternate paths through the Preservation Commission – a certificate of economic hardship or a certificate of special merit. Should the City apply for but not obtain either of those certificates from the Preservation Commission, City Council can overrule the Preservation Commission’s decision.

These applications require public hearings and allow input from residents. Further, it is possible that City Council’s decision on these issues would be subject to judicial review.

Additional Review

The MOU does not address additional levels of review, but Bonnie McDonald, President and CEO of the advocacy group Landmarks Illinois, said an application to demolish a landmark sets in motion certain review mechanisms to ensure that demolition will not deprive the public of a valuable historic asset. The administrator of state historical preservation, through the state historic preservation office, conducts these administrative reviews, Ms. McDonald said.

 “No Cost to the City”

At the July 23 City Council meeting, aldermen approved a motion by Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, that the project be done “at no cost to the City.” 

The MOU appears to have modified that. The MOU recites the City Council “at its July 23, 2018, meeting agreed to enter into a Memorandum of Understating with ELD only if no costs associated with the “Natural Site  Restoration” as defined herein are borne by the City of Evanston.”

Mr. Bobkiewicz earlier told the RoundTable he believed he did not have to obtain Council approval of the MOU.

Aldermen who are not clearly in the demolition camp may further wish to parse what the scope of the project in fact is and what “no cost to the City” means. It is not clear whether the Council had in mind any collateral costs – such as toxic waste disposal, legal fees or continued maintenance of the property – when they said the project must not cost the City anything. The MOU is silent on these possible costs.

Evanston Lighthouse Dunes

The MOU is includes the names of six members of ELD, five of whom signed the document personally: Nicole Kustok, Jeff Coney, William Stafford, Joseph Flanagan and Noreen Edwards. Charles Lewis signed it as chairman of the Lewis-Sebring Foundation, which has donated funds for the demolition. Names of donors to Evanston Lighthouse Dunes, which include one alderman, are posted on the City of Evanston’s website.  

It is expected that the City will proceed shortly to file an application with the Preservation Commission for a certificate of appropriateness. The Preservation has 45 days in which to respond. The MOU provides that if within 24 months of Aug. 27, 2018, the City has not obtained the necessary approval to demolish the mansion and coach house, the agreement will be null and void.

On what looks like a collision course with the demolition is an advisory referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot asking residents to vote on whether or not to preserve the mansion. Like all advisory referenda, this one is not binding.

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...