Residents form group to keep city charm

Mike Cherney

A group of Evanston residents has vowed to take back the streets from unwanted developers — one neighborhood at a time.

A smattering of yellow placards popped up in front yards over the summer, announcing the arrival of Respect Our Neighborhood. Supporters say the group could create a united front for all residents against unwanted developments.

“Evanston has the reputation of an activist community, but I think this is a fairly new phenomenon since we haven’t had the kind of development that we have had recently,” said Evanston resident and Respect Our Neighborhood member Gail Ettinger.

The purpose of the new organization, said Respect Our Neighborhood member Jill Wortmann, is to preserve the character and charm of residential neighborhoods at a time when Evanston has seen a spike in development.

Wortmann said 50 people from different Evanston neighborhoods attended the organization’s first meeting about three months ago.

The organization originally evolved from a group of residents who urged the city to grant landmark status to The Georgian Hotel, 422 Davis St., in an attempt to save the building from destruction. Organizers saw an opportunity to make “something bigger” out of the fledgling association, Wortmann said.

“As we looked around, there were so many issues affecting every neighborhood in Evanston,” she said. “Evanston is experiencing tremendous growth, which is great — but at the same time, people live here because they like the residential neighborhoods.”

Evanston resident Diane Rasmussen said she became involved with the group as an offshoot of her work with The Georgian Hotel. She said the organization’s purpose is to make sure that residents’ concerns reach the city’s aldermen.

“One thing is we are going to learn from each other, educate each other and educate our city government as to what are the details of the city plan,” Rasmussen said. “We want development but we want it to be thoughtful.”

The new organization has received a fair amount of publicity. Its Web site, www.respectourneighborhood.org, which currently is not working, and yellow yard signs have garnered attention, and Ettinger said she receives new requests for yard signs on a weekly basis.

“We’re just starting out,” Ettinger said. “I have been gratified by the number of people from all over the city with whom our message seems to resonate.”

Wortmann said city officials are starting to take notice that there is a new voice in town.

Last week Evanston City Council voted to terminate further study into a proposed marina in southeast Evanston and the Evanston Preservation Commission recommended granting landmark status to a building on the Kendall College site, 2408 Orrington Ave. Respect Our Neighborhood had supported both initiatives.

Still, some say that Respect Our Neighborhood has yet to make an impact. Ald. Edmund Moran (6th) said the group’s influence has not been felt during City Council deliberations.

“I see these signs and I’m wondering why people are putting up signs that say ‘respect our neighborhood,'” he said. “It’s a nice thought, but what are they after?”

Reach Mike Cherney at [email protected].