A developer’s proposal to build an 11-story office building on what is now a public parking lot behind the Evanston Public Library is back on the table.
Alderman Thomas Suffredin, 6th Ward, one of four aldermen voting against the project at the March 19 meeting, when the issue needed seven votes to move forward – called for the issue to be reinstated at the end of the Council’s April 8 meeting.
Under Council rules, an aldermen voting on the prevailing side of an issue may bring the issue back up for consideration, if done at the next regular meeting after the vote was taken.
Two City committees had previously recommended denial of the project, citing its height and bulk for the site, resulting in five-foot setbacks on the building’s north and south sides.
At the March 19 meeting, much of the discussion focused on safety in the public alley that runs behind the building and a portion of which would be vacated to extend the office building south.
Because enough residents in the area had signed petitions in opposition, the developers needed a supermajority, or seven votes, to approve the map amendment and zoning needed.
In requesting reconsideration on April 8, Ald. Suffredin said “I would like to see us continue to work with the developer, with the adjacent property owners, the library, to see if we can do what we need to do – which is figure out a way to solve this problem, address this issue, see if there is an agreement that can be made and get this library parking lot issue resolved.”
He received support from Ald. Judy Fiske, in whose First Ward the property is located. Ald. Fiske had argued throughout the process that an office building is a good fit for the area, bringing more foot traffic for businesses and having less impact on surrounding residential buildings than other uses.
“Building on what Alderman Suffredin said, I think this is an opportunity to expand the discussion that we’ve had in the past,” she said at the April 8 meeting. “This is an extremely important project for the City of Evanston. I think there are still some unanswered questions. I would definitely like to expand the discussion with adjacent property owners and address issues concerning the alley.”
Her recommendation was that the City leave the issue on the table for further consideration. “My guess is we could have a substantial discussion with the community in the next three to four weeks,” she said.
Arguing against reconsideration, Ald. Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, said he still did not feel he received appropriate answers to the questions he raised at the previous meeting, where the votes to move the issue forward fell short.
“We did not have a contractor who had a contract for the property. We didn’t have commitments from lenders,” he said. “I’m a little blown away, in the absence of Alderman Wynne [Third Alderman Melissa Wynne who raised some of the strongest objections to the project] that this is the way we’re going to do this.”
Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, who raised strong criticism of the project through the hearing process, said Council members needed clarification on what the motion to reconsider would mean.
“Because in my view it doesn’t mean we are voting yes or no on the proposal that we considered and voted on a few weeks ago. We are talking about entering a new conversation,” Ald. Revelle said.
She voted in support of reconsideration of the proposal, which passed by a 6-1 vote, with Ald. Wilson casting the lone “no” vote.
During discussion, Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, raised the possibility of forming a subcommittee, composed of aldermen most familiar with the issue, to consider the matter.
“I don’t think putting it on the table and letting it languish is a good idea,” she said.
Ald. Fiske said the intention is not to let it languish. “I think there’s some information that needs to be acquired and discussed, and I think we’ve made a good start to doing that,” she said. “And I’d like to continue those conversations. As ward alderman, I know everybody involved, and I think we’re moving in a very productive manner, together.”
She also said, “Alderman Suffredin and I had a very good conversation with some of the stakeholders. I’m encouraged by what we heard, the way things are moving.”