Council may act on Kendall landmark status tonight

The former Kendall College administration building could be one step closer to landmark status after tonight’s Evanston City Council meeting.

After delaying discussion for the building’s local landmark status at the Dec. 13 City Council meeting, the Planning and Development Committee will consider designating the building known as Wesley Hall, 2408 Orrington Ave., as a landmark. More residents who live near the property will testify at the meeting.

Landmark status would mean the owner of the building, Smithfield Properties, could not demolish the building to create town houses. Residents near the former Kendall property have been urging the council to grant landmark status for months.

Wesley Hall, originally built as a Swedish Methodist Episcopal Theological Seminary in 1907, meets several criteria for landmark status, including historical importance and architectural design, said Judy Fiske, co-founder of the Northeast Evanston Historic District Association.

Ald. Steven Bernstein (4th) said giving the building landmark status will have little impact on Smithfield’s plans because the building is already in a local and national historic district.

“The developer would already have to go through standards,” Bernstein said. “It’s just more stringent if they accepted it as a landmark status.”

Bernstein questioned the timing of the proposal for landmark status. Nearby residents pushed for landmark status in June, just months after Smithfield wanted to build condos on the property. Bernstein compared the residents’ attempts to last year’s attempts at preserving The Georgian retirement hotel, where he said nearby residents tried to make the building a historic landmark to divert the developer’s plans.

“I don’t want to use the preservation committee’s landmark status to be a obstruction but I want to use it for the purpose it is supposed to serve,” he said. “The question is whether the timing is righteous or not.”

The Administration and Public Works and Planning and Development Committees will meet at 7 p.m., and the full council will convene at 8:30 p.m.

All meetings are held at the Evanston Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave.

The council also began discussing next year’s budget Saturday, which includes a proposed 3.98 percent increase in property taxes and a new 1 percent tax on food and beverages sold in restaurants. The budget includes no cuts in city services.

Wielding a stuffed pig to represent the city’s budget, Evanston resident Junad Rizki said the city should cut its staff, not raise taxes. The parks and recreation, mental health and affordable housing departments could all do their jobs with less staff, he said.

The City Council must approve the budget before March 1, the start of the city’s fiscal year. The budget was prepared by interim City Manager Judith Aiello — the new city manager begins work on Jan. 18. The meeting was the first in a series of Saturday morning budget workshops.

The proposed budget for Cook County, released on Wednesday after the city made its proposal, also includes a new 2 percent tax on restaurant meals. Cook County’s tax also would affect hotel stays.

Some aldermen said they were concerned about taxing one of Evanston’s best known industries, especially if Cook County also implements a tax.

“The restaurant industry has ben very important to keeping our downtown vital,” Ald. Arthur Newman (1st) said at the workshop.

Aldermen also asked for comparative data for Evanston and other surrounding suburbs.

“I want to know if there’s any area in which Evanston doesn’t have the highest tax,” Newman said.

Aiello said the tax increases were as small as possible, and the city’s economy is still strong.

“We have a property tax we think keeps to the bare minimum,” said Aiello. “There is growing interest … for retail space in this community.”

No cuts were proposed, she said, because the council has rejected them in previous years.

Despite the tax increases, the city’s financial position is better than last year, when property taxes increased nearly 7 percent.

One improvement on last year when the state withheld $300,000 of income tax is that Illinois provided the city its full share of income taxes.

Evanston has also dodged the rising cost of health care — city staff found a new health insurance provider that will not increase costs. If the city had kept the previous provider for its employees, those costs would likely have increased more than 10 percent.

Reach Stephanie Chen at [email protected] or Paul Thissen at [email protected]