Council approves district

Natalie Baughman

The Daily Northwestern

Evanston City Council voted 6-3 Monday night to approve the Northeast Evanston Historic District after amending its northern boundary for a second time.

The council approved a northern boundary in an alley between Colfax and Lincoln streets after Ald. Stephen Engelman (7th) made a motion to move the boundary.

The Planning and Development Committee had voted 3-0 Thursday to move the northern boundary south about seven blocks from the originally proposed Evanston/Wilmette border to Lincoln Street. The committee recommended the boundary to the full council, which rejected it in favor of the final boundary, located one half block south.

The other boundaries remained the same: Emerson Street to the south, Sheridan Road to the east and Sherman or Ridge avenues to the west. About 50 Northwestern buildings will be included in the district.

Thursday’s boundary change cut out about half of the homeowners in the district — most of whom opposed it — while the change made Monday excluded 13 more who live on the south side of Lincoln Street.

Ald. Gene Feldman (9th) said he voted in favor of the boundary between Colfax and Lincoln streets because it excludes a great number of people who don’t want to live within the district yet still protects buildings that could face demolition or major renovations within the next few years.

“While I can find no compelling reason to force this district down people’s throats, I know these districts have worked in the past and they’ve worked well,” Feldman said. “I can find reasons to support a historic district south of Lincoln Street.”

Although Engelman proposed the new boundary between Colfax and Lincoln streets, he voted against it in the end.

“The district is not appropriate, not necessary and not wanted,” he said. “It should represent the values of this community and the informed consent of the governed, which it clearly does not do.”

Engelman said he opposed the district from the start because it represented a misuse of the city’s preservation ordinance. The ordinance was not intended to regulate the land-use issues that have concerned Orrington Avenue residents, he said. These residents, whose homes will be included in the district, have supported the historic district as a means to prevent Northwestern from expanding west of Sheridan Road.

“Painting a broad brush across seven blocks of this city to preserve 14 (NU department office) buildings is not the direction in which we can go,” Engelman said. “The city has a zoning ordinance for that purpose.”

But Ald. Arthur Newman (1st) said his main motivation in voting for the district was preserving Sheridan Road and protecting it from new developments by NU.

“If this ordinance prevents Northwestern from purchasing one more house west of Sheridan Road, then it’s a victory for the tax rolls and a victory for the city,” Newman said. “Some of the houses may eventually go down, but they’ll go down because of the approval of the historic preservation committee.”

Despite Newman’s goal to use the district to protect Sheridan Road from NU development, Ald. Edmund Moran (6th) pointed out that the university was not part of the original district.

“The original proposal’s boundaries did not include many of Northwestern’s properties,” he said. “Tonight we’re faced with a proposal that eviscerates the original proposal. The proposers of the district don’t want this proposal. They want (the original boundaries) to be maintained.”

Ald. Dennis Drummer (2nd) added that the district’s new boundaries may no longer be defensible and aren’t considerate of NU.

“I don’t see how it could pass,” Drummer said. “People will think it’s some gerrymandered, rigged-up district.”

While many aldermen regretted that the historic district has divided the city, they said the debate also sparked activism in Evanston.

“It’s unfortunate that the personal attacks occurred,” Engelman said. “But this is a passionate community, especially when (the issue) is in your face and in your backyard.”