Evanston nonprofit’s plans disrupted by city’s attempt to sell property

Rachel Janik, Reporter

Evanston is in the process of selling the Harley Clarke Mansion, a move that could be bad news for Edible Evanston, a farming nonprofit that recently won a grant to renovate and utilize a greenhouse on the property.

Last June, the Evanston Community Foundation awarded almost $5,000 to Edible Evanston to help the group restore the greenhouse on the Harley Clarke Mansion property, 2603 Sheridan Road. Around the same time, the city began looking to sell the property, currently home to the Evanston Art Center, hoping that a private owner would be better able to fund much-needed repair and restoration. Edible Evanston co-chair Ken Kastman said that the group was not aware that the property up for sale included the greenhouse.

Kastman was hoping to get started with renovations as soon as possible so seeds could be planted for the first growing season. City officials told him he would have to wait, he said. Kastman said he knew about the “request for interest” the city had put out to potential buyers and said he assumed the city wanted to avoid distractions while selling the mansion property. Besides that, he wasn’t getting any information from the city, he said.

“We keep asking the question,” he said. “But as far as we know it’s just on hold (until) further notice.”

Unfortunately for Edible Evanston, the entire property, including the greenhouse, is up for sale.

Douglas Gaynor, the city’s director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services, said the city now has a few potential buyers and has requested proposals regarding how these buyers might use the property. Edible Evanston’s project now hinges on whether or not these proposals include an allowance for the group to use the greenhouse, which is attached to two apartments.

Ald. Jane Grover (7th) said she hadn’t known about Edible Evanston’s plans for the greenhouse but added that the city is being very careful about selling the property.

“It’s a significant building, and we’re trying to find its highest and best use, and I don’t think the Art Center is that use,” Grover said. “I don’t even think the Art Center thinks that.”

She said she was concerned upon hearing about Edible Evanston’s grant for the greenhouse.

“We’d be interested in working with them on this, because we don’t want to displace people, naturally,” she said.

In the meantime, Kastman and Edible Evanston are still waiting for the green light. The grant they received is only good for one year and will expire this coming June. If the property goes to a buyer who isn’t willing to offer the space to Edible Evanston, there is no other greenhouse the group could use.

“Obviously we don’t want to get in the city’s way, but if there’s any way possible that we could still use the greenhouse, we’d love to do it,” Kastman said. “This initiative would be a really great opportunity to make good use of an underused space.”