Split Preservation Commission vote puts North Campus garage plan on hold

Joseph Diebold, Web Editor

An Evanston Preservation Commission stalemate Tuesday night has Northwestern officials in a waiting period with plans to begin constructing the first of several buildings in the proposed North Campus athletic complex.

NU received three “yes” votes from the six-member quorum for a certificate of appropriateness to build on the designated landmark lot of record at 2311 Sheridan Road, where the University is hoping to add a six-story garage onto the west side of the Henry Crown Sports Pavilion and Norris Aquatics Center. But “no” votes from commissioners Kris Hartzell and Amy Riseborough, as well as an abstention from Anne McGuire, left the proposal one vote short of passage. The University, committee members and Carlos Ruiz, the city’s planning and zoning preservation coordinator, were unsure of their next moves.

Ruiz said it was unclear whether NU could appeal the decision to the Evanston City Council or whether the University would have to wait for the commission’s next meeting, scheduled for Feb. 19. In October, the council overturned the commission’s vote against a proposal for a new Sheridan Road visitors center.

NU’s presentation was led by Ron Nayler, associate vice president for facilities management. He was joined by Bonnie Humphrey, director of design and construction, and two architects from Chicago firm Perkins and Will, who are working on the garage plan. The commissioners tangled at times with Nayler and Humphrey over the height and scale of the building and whether it and future pieces of the athletic complex qualified as an addition to SPAC or as new buildings. Commission chair Garry Shumaker expressed hesitation but ultimately voted for the proposal.

“My bigger concern is what the entirety of SPAC is going to be at some point,” he said at the meeting. “Thus far with this project I don’t see how this is going in the wrong direction.”

Nayler expressed disappointment with the result, saying the University was ready to “pull the permits” tomorrow and had a contractor standing by to proceed with construction. In a press release last week, NU announced they hoped to begin construction on the garage in February. Nayler said he was not sure appealing to City Council would be an option but was hopeful for a resolution.

“You’re really appealing a denial, so if there’s no action it’s a difficult question,” he said. “We don’t know what that means, so we need to wait to hear from them to really think about it.”

Nayler added he hoped commissioners absent from Monday’s meeting would be permitted to review the public record of the debate and vote on the proposal.

Earlier, Nayler had presented an overview of the University’s long-term framework, arguing the garage proposal is part of a desire to push parking to the outskirts of campus to allow for the creation of more central green spaces for pedestrians.

Of the two dissenters, Riseborough was more vocal in her opposition to the garage, expressing concern with the building’s size, particularly the lake-facing east facade, which will be open in order to facilitate the ventilation necessary for the other three faces to be glass.

“To me the scale is really overwhelming,”  Riseborough said. “It’s really clear it’s a parking garage. It’s not clear to me that a parking structure is going to increase the ‘pedestrianization’ of this campus.”