NU, city meet with lawsuit mediator

Dalia Naamani-Goldman

Before taking further action to settle a lawsuit Northwestern brought against Evanston regarding the enaction of the Northeast Evanston Historic District, officials from both sides said Thursday that they are waiting to hear more from Judge Marvin Aspen, who is presiding over the case.

Both parties met separately March 24 with Abner Mikva, a court-appointed mediator who had been vacationing most of the winter.

A status meeting is scheduled for mid-April, according to Eugene Sunshine, vice president for business and finance. If the case is not settled through mediation, it will go to trial in June.

Sunshine said NU — represented by himself, University President Henry Bienen, General Counsel Thomas Cline and several members of the Board of Trustees — reiterated a desire to settle the lawsuit, originally filed in November 2000, at the meeting with Mikva.

“We’ve always tried to settle this in some way that would be meaningful to both sides,” Sunshine said Thursday.

City Manager Roger Crum said both sides learned more about the other’s position during their respective sessions with Mikva but would not comment further.

When asked about the case’s progress, Ald. Steven Bernstein (4th) declined to comment.

“The university shouldn’t be talking to you either,” he added.

But Ald. Joseph Kent (5th) confirmed that Evanston City Council held an executive session Monday — without Mikva — where the council further discussed the case.

“Both sides are very concerned about what’s being said,” Kent said. “There’s a great amount of caution.”

Neither side would comment on whether negotiations have restarted between the two parties.

The lawsuit was filed after the historic district was created and included substantial portions of NU’s property west of Sheridan Road. The university claims the city did so to try and force NU to contribute money to the city; NU is exempt from paying property taxes. But the city said it is exercising its right to protect historic residential properties and is not acting out of animosity toward the university.

A city motion for summary judgment was partially granted by Aspen last summer, leaving only two of NU’s original six claims against the city intact for a possible trial. Although mediation in the case began while Aspen considered the city’s motion, the parties made no progress toward a settlement, according to Sunshine.

“We never really got from the city any kind of substantive reaction to the proposal,” Sunshine said. “We thought that it was worth going over the proposal again.”

Although the university is looking to settle the lawsuit, Sunshine said the university is willing to consider other proposals. But NU is still waiting to hear from the city, he said.

“We’re trying to engage the city in some kind of meaningful dialogues,” Sunshine said. “We figured a good starting point would be to respond.”

The Daily’s Andy Nelson contributed to this report.