It is disheartening to think that the Evanston City Council will likely approve Northwestern University’s request to add professional sports and entertainment events as permitted uses in the U2 district.

Hundreds of nearby residents and scores of local businesses have signed petitions asking the Council to reject the proposal. 

If Council approves the request, they are signaling to the residents of Evanston that no one’s zoning is secure and that no one should trust the Council to adhere to the standards set in the City’s zoning ordinance.

Those who try to justify a vote for approval say that people who chose to live near the stadium knew what they were doing.

Some of the people making that claim are elected and appointed officials who chose to be paraded onto Ryan Field at half-time of a Northwestern football game. To be clear, it was “Evanston Day,” a day when NU offers cheap tickets to the game to fill up the stadium, since students have not returned to campus. But even though it was “Evanston Day,” none of the Evanston officials wore City of Evanston gear – and those who wore partisan colors sported NU’s purple. While Evanston Day has been a tradition at Ryan Field for a number of years, we feel that the City officials showed poor judgment in participating this year, when Northwestern’s zoning request was pending before the City Council.

We think the residents and businesses around Ryan Field did recognize when they chose to locate there that a college football stadium, a college baseball field and a college basketball arena were nearby. But they also knew that professional sporting and entertainment events were not allowed, and we think they had a right to rely on the current zoning.

In this case, invoking the argument that the residents knew that NU had a right to hold professional sports and entertainment events in the U2 district is unfounded.

The current Zoning Code expressly states that the requirements and conditions contained in the code to hold a special event are “to ensure that temporary [special] uses shall not impose an undue adverse effect on neighboring streets or property.”

Among the requirements to hold a special event are that the event be limited to “community and cultural events of a nonprofit nature” and that athletic events be “amateur” athletic events.

City Council previously determined that these requirements were essential to help ensure that special events do not have an undue adverse effect on the neighborhood.

That determination should stand, particularly in light of the neighbors’ and businesses’ statements that professional events in these arenas will adversely affect the neighborhood.  

We urge City Council to apply the standards contained in the Zoning Code to amend the ordinance. And in this regard, we think that a desire for tax revenues on ticket sales is not relevant under the zoning code.