Harley Clarke mansion, 2603 Sheridan RoadPhoto by Mary Mumbrue

While the group proposing to save the Harley Clarke mansion and adapt it for re-use won the day with their non-binding referendum victory on Nov. 6, the nine votes that will decide the matter still reside with City Council.

At its Dec. 10 meeting, the City Council will consider the City’s appeal of the Preservation Commission’s decision to deny the City’s request for a certificate of appropriateness to demolish the mansion, located at 2603 Sheridan Road.

The appeal filed by the City on Nov. 20 contests the Preservation Commission’s interpretation of the standards of review of applications for a certificate of appropriateness in the City’s Historic Preservation Ordinance. The appeal states that the City contends the Preservation Commission’s interpretation of the facts was not proper. “The facts as applied to the standards are not in line with the intent of the Historic Preservation Ordinance. While the Owner acknowledges that the property has been a long standing building within the Northeast Evanston Historic District, it is not reflective of any one type of significant architectural style within the bounds of the district.”

In particular, the appeal states the unanimous decision to deny the certificate of appropriateness was “incorrect,” due to the Preservation Commission’s misinterpretation of City Code Section 2-8-9(D) (1), which deals with “whether the property, structure or object is of such historic, cultural, architectural or archaeological significance that its demolition would be detrimental to the public interest and contrary to the general welfare of the people of the City and the State.” The City’s appeal says the “Harley Clarke mansion and coach house are not a prime example of one particular architectural style or design. The architectural design of the mansion/coach house can be reproduced and are not unique; the Owner believes that the structure as it stands does not raise [sic] to the standard required by the City Code.”

The harm the City suffered by the determination, according to the appeal, is that the City “cannot move forward with its proposal to demolish the Harley Clarke mansion with the current interpretation and determination of the Evanston Preservation Commission. The Owner [the City] must maintain the [mansion] at an exorbitant cost that is financially burdensome to the City.” The City’s appeal says the mansion imposes a “financial burden” on the City to bring it up to code and the structure “can be deemed to create a hazardous condition to individuals on the Subject Property” and refers to another section of the City Code, 2-8-9 (D)(5). That section poses the questions whether the property represents a danger and imminent hazard and whether retention, remediation or repair are physically possible or “require great difficulty and/or expense.”

At present, the City invests about $15,000 per year to maintain the mansion. Different groups, including the City, have estimated the cost of bringing the mansion up to City standards, making it “habitable” and rehabbing it for a different use.

According to the City, if Council votes at the Dec. 10 meeting to accept the appeal, aldermen will most likely hear and discuss it at their Jan. 14 meeting.

Mary Gavin

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...