Northwestern University is seeking approval of a new scoreboard in right field of its new baseball stadium on the far northern edge of Evanston at Isabella Street and Ashland Avenue. After approval at the Zoning Board of Appeals level, the application landed at the City’s Planning and Development Committee on Jan. , where it met with vocal protest from Wilmette neighbors along the Isabella corridor.
The Committee ultimately voted unanimously to introduce the matter to Council, where introduction was included on the consent agenda. It will return for final debate in two weeks.
Several Wilmette neighbors expressed concern over the scoreboard’s size, 34 feet above grade and some 100 yards south of Isabella Street, facing west northwest toward Ashland Avenue.
Ryan Baptiste of Northwestern’s Athletics Department said the baseball team plays about 18 home games during its season, which runs from the end of March through May. The stadium is not lighted, so all games take place during the afternoon.
Wilmette resident Celene Peurye-Hissong told the committee the scoreboard will "have a negative effect on property values" and impact "traffic and safety when fully lighted." She cited Evanston code, which states that "signs are not to constitute a traffic hazard." She and others called Isabella Street a major thoroughfare, and urged the committee to "just say no."
Laurel Schaeffer, another neighbor, said Isabella homes are 30 to 34 feet off the ground, and with the screen 34 feet off the ground, "we will endure four to five hours a day, for 19 days a year," staring out bedroom windows in the afternoon into a lighted baseball scoreboard. "Traffic will be impacted," she said.
"Did anyone check with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources?" Ms. Schaeffer asked. Calling the area a major flyover point, she continued, "Will the birds fly into the screen?"
Neighbor Tracy Pinchman decried the scoreboard as harmful to children. Kids looking out bedrooms windows to find "Coca Cola flashing in their eyes" could be harmed, she said. She called for a study on the lighted scoreboard’s impact on children’s brains. The distracting scoreboard will lead to kids’ being hit by cars on Isabella Street, she added. "What’s it going to do to our children?" she asked.
Carol Cagan said she heard Northwestern referred to as a good neighbor. "That may be true, but does not extend to the other side of Isabella." She called on Evanston to be better neighbors than Northwestern and "consider the impact" of the scoreboard in rejecting it.
Bill French said between Northwestern’s seven or eight home football games a year, and an increased interest in baseball anticipated by the new stadium, "it’s really six months" that neighbors must deal with. "The decibel level of the PA system" must be considered as well, he said.
The committee focused on power lines and landscaping. Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, said Northwestern should work with contractors to bury power lines "just as a matter of aesthetics."
Aldermen Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, and Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, both voted to move the matter to Council, but called for "a new landscape plan."
Ald. Fiske also asked whether Northwestern had tried to find a location "that’s not as big an impact on the neighbors."
"The location we have right now," said Charles Davidson of Northwestern, "mitigates the most."
Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, agreed, pointing out the location of the scoreboard is as far from Isabella Street as possible, and the screen is at an angle so that it faces almost due west toward the stadium seating area and Ashland Avenue behind it. Sightlines from stadium seating to the scoreboard must be preserved, Mr. Davidson said.
"I would appreciate not being interrupted, and the answer to my question not being interrupted," said Ald. Wilson in response to catcalls from the Wilmette visitors at the meeting.
The matter returns for final debate and vote in two weeks.