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An Evanston City Council Member’s proposal to open the City’s beaches and lakefront to more food trucks is rolling forward, but not without criticism that it clashes with the vision for the lakefront as a place for passive enjoyment.
Council Members on June 28 held off acting on an ordinance that would lift restrictions on food trucks. They are expected to further discuss and vote on the issue at their July 12 meeting.
At a City Human Services meeting June 7, Council Member Devon Reid, 8th Ward, had called for his colleagues to consider loosening restrictions on food trucks and pushcarts in the lakefront area.
Current City Code does not allow food trucks within 100 feet of City beaches and parks, except “those authorized by the City and its duly authorized agents,” Lawrence Hemingway, the City’s Director of Parks and Recreation, said in a memo.
In discussion at the June 28 Council meeting, Mr. Reid maintained that loosening restrictions to allow more food trucks would give the City the “opportunity to realize revenue to offset the cost of continuing to practice to charge access to our beaches.
“This is not building new structures along the lakefront “ he said in support of speedy action on the issue. “We’re not building a facility. So, this can be undone if it does not work out. If it creates issues, unforeseen issues, we can make amendments to this in years to come.”
Other Council Members maintained that the issue should go through the normal legislative process – which calls for introduction of an item at one meeting, and action at the next.
“I personally would like to be able to have a taco when I go to the beach or grab a hamburger, and I think adding food trucks and adding access to amenities like that at the beach front would increase the ability of Evanston residents to enjoy the lakefront,” said Council Member Jonathan Nieuwsma, 4th Ward.
“However, I’m also committed to the public engagement process when we’re talking about our community’s most valuable natural resource, and I don’t want to move too fast on this,” he added.
Another Council member, Council Member Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward – as well as some residents during the public comment portion of the meeting – maintained the proposed food-truck activity was not compatible with the vision of the lakefront as outlined in a master plan for the area in 2007.
“I was on the Council and did participate in the Lakefront Master Plan that year,” Ms. Wynne said. “We had 10 well-attended community meetings all over Evanston, with several hundred people who participated, and we have followed that lakefront master plan – it hasn’t sat on the shelf. The lakefront that we have now with all of the improvements and the amenities that we have now is in keeping with that Lakefront Master Plan.
“If we want to make changes on the lakefront, I would support engaging in another Lakefront Master Plan, but I don’t want to do this piecemeal,” said Ms. Wynne, reporting she had received numerous calls and emails about the proposed change.
Several residents, who fell in that group, wrote Council Members or spoke at the June 28 meeting.
“Anyone who frequents our parks knows they’re used by people of all walks of life,” said Holly Reynolds, a longtime resident, addressing Council Members. “It is where everyone can get away from the City for a time.”
“Food trucks are inimical to this, in every way,” she said. “They are quintessentially urban, they are very apparent – their massive forms, their exhaust, their constant noise, will degrade our lake.”
Food trucks “are also completely unnecessary,” she argued, “with people able to purchase food in closely located downtown and bring it with them to the lake.”
Matthew Mirapaul, another resident weighing in, said in an email to Council Members that he had been among the hundreds of Evanston residents who took part in developing the Evanston Lakefront Master Plan, which was unanimously adopted by the City Council in 2008.
“One of the primary goals of the Plan, which was developed and adopted with widespread community support,” he wrote, “is to emphasize a balance between natural, un-programmed lakefront with a variety of lakefront-appropriate activity programming to engage all users and generate limited revenue, while honoring the lakefront’s environmental integrity and surrounding neighborhoods.”
“As part of that goal,” Mr. Mirapaul pointed out, “the Plan notes that, while there is public support for ‘minor concession facilities,’ those are defined as offering ‘prepackaged or refrigerated foods, drinks, and necessities such as sunscreen, while excluding significant facilities such as grills or kitchens.’
“Do Evanston residents, who a mere 13 years ago said they wanted to limit commercial activity on the lakefront and supported its ‘passive’ enjoyment,” he wrote further down, “actually want to throw that away for the prospect of buying an overpriced hot dog?
“The food-truck proposal in particular is an alarmingly slippery – in this case, greasy – slope that would open the door to a commercialization of our precious lakefront that could all too easily result in a KFC at Lighthouse Beach and a Portillo’s in Centennial Park,” he wrote.