City Council to discuss fate of trees in empty lot

Kris Anne Bonifacio

The lot has been empty for years.

The city block bounded by Lincoln and Colfax streets and Orrington and Sherman avenues used to house Kendall College, but since the school moved to downtown Chicago in 2005, the huge lot that once featured academic buildings has been an eyesore. The lot’s developers, Smithfield Properties, began demolishing the buildings, but there have been no definitive plans on what to do with the block until recently.

The plan, a resubdivision of 19 single-family lots, has hit a snag. The proposed plan calls for cutting down mature trees on the lots to make way for the houses and for two alleys, and one tree could be as old as 345 years.

“(The developer) didn’t tell us that trees are being harmed in the new plans,” said Padma Rao, one of the Evanston residents who expressed their opposition at the cutting down of the trees.

Rao, a Feinberg School of Medicine assistant professor,, said she was disappointed at the lack of transparency about the plans, especially because the issue of the trees never came up when they talked about the proposed subdivision during committee meetings.

“It got through the preservation commission without anyone knowing anything about it, until it got to the planning and developing committee,” she said. “Suddenly it comes to light that (the developer) intends to kill over two dozen trees.”

Evanston’s Zoning Planner Dominick Argumedo said the 19 single-family homes meet size and width zoning regulations, as do the alleys that would service the lots.

“We reviewed it in August of last year, when the applicant first submitted it,” Argumedo said. “The applicant did foresee delays in the process, but it has now reached City Council.”

According to the Planning and Development Committee minutes from a Feb. 14 meeting, Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) has been working with the developer to address the tree issue and try to save as many trees as possible. With the request of Steve Friedland, a Chicago-based attorney representing Smithfield Properties, the issue was moved to the council for discussion.

The matter was discussed at the Feb. 28 City Council meeting, but aldermen tabled it until the next meeting on March 14.

Rao said she attended the meeting to voice her opinion during public comment, but she said it’s not necessarily the best place for real citizen input.

“If you had told everyone that you’re going to put this many trees in harm’s way, I would guess that a group of engineering students who know about ecology could come up with a plan that protects the maximum number of trees and still looks good architecturally, making everyone happy,” she said. “Why are we sacrificing this many trees, and why are we making deals behind closed doors?”

She said she has talked to Fiske about the issue and hopes they will send the plans back to committees to fully assess the impact of the trees being cut down.

“I find it disturbing that we would approve to kill this many mature trees without discussing it and the public not knowing this was a consequence,” Rao said. “The project should go back to the committee with complete information provided, offer some alternative and anyone from the public who has an opinion can come and express it and be a part of the discussion.”

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