Aldermen to consider 5-year plan for projects

Laura Olson

Evanston officials presented the city’s capital improvement program to the City Council Monday night. The plan was met with general support, but council members said they would like to discuss it in further detail.

The plan, which provides a guideline for developing projects over the next five years, will authorize $42.7 million for the first year’s spending distributions once adopted by the council. The following years’ plans show what Patrick Casey, the city’s director of management and budget, said are financial estimates.

The 2007-08 plan focuses on continuing several renovations that have been under way – alley pavements, water main replacements and traffic signal updates. It also provides funding for improvements to six of Evanston’s 76 parks.

The $700,000 reconstruction of Lawson Park on Sheridan Road, which will move into the design stage as soon as the plan is adopted, would create Evanston’s first playground specially designed for children with disabilities. The project is co-financed by a private donation of $300,000.

“It has been shown that replacing equipment and keeping it well-maintained is important to keep the neighborhoods lively,” said Mark Metz, a member of the Evanston Parks and Recreation Board.

Casey said the plan wasn’t able to address the animal shelter’s expansion and did not involve funds resulting from Northwestern’s 2004 purchase of an office building at 1800 Sherman Ave., taking it off the tax rolls. NU agreed to pay $2.1 million to the city and local school districts over three years. The city so far has received $700,000 from NU.

The capital improvement program also will not address funding for the relocation of the Evanston Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave., or the renovation of Robert Crown Community Center & Ice Complex, 1701 Main St.

Two members of the Evanston Public Art Committee said they hoped the council will consider the importance of public art during their discussion of the capital improvement program.

“Imagine that when you walk through every part of our city you are surrounded by art,” said Gerry Macsai, co-chair of the Public Art Committee. “Each neighborhood can have its own character and focus to the art.”

Macsai and her co-chair, Lyn Delli Quadri, asked the council to set aside 1 percent of the capital improvement program to provide funding for public art.

“If art is everywhere, it need not be expensive,” Macsai said. “It must be good and represent what each neighborhood is interested in.”

Ald. Edmund Moran (6th) said the program could help the city to implement its strategic plan but would also like to see public parking problems addressed in the proposal.

“Parking is an issue that dominates a lot of people’s thinking,” Moran said. “We shouldn’t let a CIP go by without addressing the problem.”

Funding for the $42 million plan comes from a variety of sources, Casey said. The largest source, property tax supported bonds, contributes $12 million, with the rest coming from sewer and water funds, government grants and other bonds.

The plan for 2006-07 distributed about $28.6 million for city use, according to the city’s Web site. Casey said this year’s increase reflects renovations to Fire Station No. 5, 2830 Central St., and additional alley paving funds. This year’s plan also includes a wider variety of resources.

The council will discuss the possible inclusion of public art funding before the plan goes to the Administration and Public Works Committee for approval.

Aldermen also listened to a report from a consultant firm that studied the city’s efficiency in communicating between departments and the public.

Consultants suggested the council focus on defining the role of each of its committees. They also recommended appointing a person to see each proposal through the bureaucratic process, so as to help developers and residents understand a project’s status. They said their studies showed Evanston residents thought the approval process for developments took too long.

For example, in March, the city approved Mather Gardens, a senior housing complex, after 28 months of discussion.

Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) said the consultants’ findings show a need to re-examine the city’s zoning laws and comprehensive plan, to bring the standards “in tune” with community ideas for development and to help increase efficiency in the proposal process.

Reach Laura Olson at [email protected]