Kendall landmark decision postponed

Breanne Gilpatrick

Aldermen voted Monday night to hold a recommendation to designate the former Kendall College administration building as a city landmark, allowing the city time to review the developer’s plans for the property.

Evanston City Council has until mid-April to decide on the matter. If aldermen decide to designate the building as a landmark, the developer, Smithfield Properties, would not be able to demolish the building to make room for town houses.

The Preservation Commission is scheduled to review the remaining Kendall structures at its Jan. 18 meeting, said James Wolinski, director of the city’s Community Development Department. The goal is to set a date for a public hearing on the development at the Jan. 24 council meeting, he said.

Debate on how the property should be developed has led to a “quagmire,” as various city committees wait for others to act, Wolinski said.

“We have a lot of loose ends we can’t seem to tie up here because we have a lot of groups waiting for the other and no one wanting to make a decision,” he said.

Kendall College announced plans to move into Chicago to a location featuring newer facilities in 2003, and Smithfield Properties purchased the land at the northern edge of Northwestern’s campus in November 2003. But disagreement between Smithfield and residents on the number of homes that should be built on the property has stalled development plans.

In June local preservationists submitted an application to have the administration building, Wesley Hall, designated as a city landmark so it can remain on the property even if Smithfield is allowed to build town houses or condos on the land. The Preservation Commission voted in October to recommend the building as a historic landmark to the City Council.

Bernard Citron, an attorney for Smithfield, said at the Planning and Development Committee meeting that the company had submitted plans to the city, but debates over zoning and landmark status have kept plans stagnant.

“We’d love for it to get through the Plan Commission and hopefully before this committee and before the full council,” Citron said. “We’re stuck, we’re in stasis right now.”

Ald. Arthur Newman (1st) said Smithfield deserves an answer soon, no matter what the council decides.

“They want an answer and they’re entitled to an answer on whether we’re going to reject the plan,” Newman said.

Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) said the decision to declare the property a historic landmark should be made independently of pressures from residents and developers.

“The standards on whether or not we landmark a building do not include whether or not it fits in with a better plan,” Wynne said.

Ald. Steven Bernstein (4th) said he doesn’t understand why the city has been so focused on the landmark issue. He said he first wants to know if the plan put forward by Smithfield will even work for the property.

“For me the landmark issue is smoke and the thing that frustrates me is that it was brought forward as smoke,” Bernstein said.

Local preservationist Barbara Janes said the building’s historical significance is all but hazy.

“(The Kendall College building) is a physical reminder of a very important chapter in the history of Evanston and if that building — because it’s not a landmark — is allowed to disappear, then we have lost an opportunity to teach not only those who are here but those who are coming along,” Janes said.

Evanston resident Jeanne Lindwall said preserving the Kendall College building is an important part of the story of the Northeast Evanston Historic District, but she said she agrees with the council’s decision.

“I think it really will be most helpful to get all the issues out on the table so when they make a decision on the landmarking and on the zoning they will have all the information that is applicable,” Lindwall said.

Reach Breanne Gilpatrick at [email protected].