Council could make ‘historic’ decision today

You can please some of the people all of the time. You can please all of the people some of the time. But when you’re an Evanston alderman, sometimes you just can’t please anybody.

Evanston City Council will make its final decision regarding the Northeast Evanston Historic District tonight. If the ordinance passes as it currently stands, it will establish a district less than half the size of the one that was originally proposed.

The Planning and Development Committee of City Council voted 3-0 Thursday night to move the northern boundary of the proposed district south to Lincoln Street. The other boundaries remain as originally proposed: Emerson Street to the south, Sheridan Road to the east, and Sherman or Ridge avenues to the west.

Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) said at the meeting that the changes were made to please more residents in the proposed district. She and Ald. Steven Bernstein (4th) said most of the people in the south end want a district to be established while many of the north-end residents oppose it.

“The people in the north end have some very serious concerns,” Wynne said. “I wanted to vote for it, but I didn’t want to vote for it under such opposition.”

But in a letter to aldermen and the mayor, Evanstonians for Responsible Preservation — the main group opposing the district — said its stance will remain the same regardless of any boundary change.

“Our bottom line remains simple and fundamental: No thanks to forced preservation districts in northeast Evanston,” the letter read. “If some group wants a redrawn district, that group must demonstrate by referendum or survey the affirmative and informed support of a majority of the homeowners who would remain in the district.”

Don Collins, a member of ERP, called the boundary change a “tactical move” by the aldermen and said he doubted it came as an authentic response to the group’s opposition. He said the council would be unable to determine how many people would support the district because no formal vote or survey has been taken by the city.

“There’s no indication that people in the south end would support (the district),” Collins said. “There has been no opportunity for people systematically to express their views on both sides.”

Allan Drebin, a district opponent who lives south of Lincoln Street, said the change is proof that the aldermen don’t really care about preservation. He said the restrictions he would face if the district were established would be especially unfair because they weren’t being made in the name of preservation.

“This kind of shows the ridiculousness of the proposal,” Drebin said. “These people claim to be in favor of preservation, but now they’re exposed. It’s not about preservation at all. It’s about limiting Northwestern.”

Even Mark Burnette, one of the Northeast Evanston Historic District Association board members who helped draft the proposal, said the group doesn’t support the boundary change. The group said at the meeting that it would support Ald. Arthur Newman’s (1st) original proposal to move the northern boundary to Central Street.

Burnette said the change seemed to be a political decision rather than a historical or preservational one.

“We don’t really support it,” he said. “It seems to be an arbitrary line drawn through the middle of the district.”

Ald. Stephen Engelman (7th), who was on the committee, was unable to attend Thursday’s meeting and said he does not support the Lincoln Street boundary. He said the boundary should have been pushed back as far as Colfax Street, the boundary between the first and the seventh wards.

Sixty-four percent of the residents who own homes on the block between Colfax and Lincoln streets are opposed to the district, he said.

“They’re hopping mad,” Engelman said. “They think this is an insult to them. I don’t understand the council’s insistence in trying to include people who don’t want to be included.”

Other items on the council’s agenda for tonight include:

~ a recommendation from the Economic Development Committee that the city provide a Tax Increment Finance subsidy of up to $2.5 million for the Sherman Plaza development. Without this subsidy, the project will not be able to be completed;

~ redevelopment agreements for the Church Street Plaza, the Davis/Church Office Development and a project at 1234-1238 Chicago Avenue;

~ an ordinance that would prohibit private towing companies from immobilizing vehicles on private property.