Residents have vested interest in auction of property

Claire Bushey

The property at 1314 Ridge Ave may be owned by the Evanston/Skokie School District 65, but school board members are not the only ones interested in the area’s fate: Residents in the nearby neighborhood also are waiting to see what the future holds for the property.

The district plans to auction off the property in the spring, leaving residents in the surrounding area worried about what potential buyers might build. The real estate firm hired by the district to help in the sale, Sheldon Good & Co., is reviewing the property’s status before recommending in the next two months how the district should structure the auction.

Because of state law, District 65 must sell the property to the highest bidder — not necessarily the buyer who will develop the property in a way that is acceptable to the community. School board member Mary Erickson said the district is trying to structure the auction to attract desirable bidders.

Steven Good, the chairman and CEO of Sheldon Good & Co., said, “Ultimately, the school board will decide how to meet community demands part and parcel with deciding what type of auction.”

At a community meeting on Dec. 13, residents from the neighborhood outlined three priorities regarding the property. They want it to return to the tax rolls, maintain its historic character and remain zoned as a residential area.

The property, which is a part of the Ridge Historic District, contains two buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. The largest building, known as the Dryden Mansion, was built in 1916 and was designed by prominent architect George Washington Maher, who designed both the Fresno Library and Water Tower in 1894 and Northwestern’s campus plan in 1907.

Developing the property — even if the exterior of the Dryden mansion is left intact — could diminish the site’s historic value, said Pauline Kurtides, an Evanston resident who lives on Dempster Street west of the property. Filling in the space around the main building would destroy the sight lines that contribute to the building’s attractiveness.

“You wouldn’t fill the Piazza San Marco with condos just because you could,” she said. “Granted, this is not the Piazza San Marco, but it’s what we have in Evanston.”

The district bought the property in 1965, which removed it from the tax rolls. Since then it has housed D65’s administrative offices.

In March 2000 voters approved a $27.5-million referendum for a new administration building and early childhood education center. Administrators plan to move into the new building at the end of the summer, freeing the district to sell the property at 1314 Ridge Ave., to get “as much money as we can for this building,” Erickson said. The money from the sale will help pay for the new building.

Erickson said in April that the property is decaying and would require extensive remodeling to serve D65 purposes.

“Our real estate tax is going out of the roof,” said Esther Berman, a resident of the 1200 block of Ridge Avenue. “We really feel very strongly that it needs to be sold where it will be back on the tax rolls. What’s the point of selling it for a one-shot deal?”