Preservation commission to vote on Northwestern subdivision proposal

Ben Schaefer, Assistant City Editor

Members of the Evanston Preservation Commission will meet Wednesday evening to vote on a Northwestern proposal to alter the boundaries of the campus’ landmark status.

The plan seeks to split the two zones into six, including five landmark zones that closely surround the dozen landmark buildings and one that contains all the non-landmark structures on campus. The current two zones stretch from Sheridan Road to the lake, with the westernmost zone containing all of the landmark buildings.

The University proposal has received pushback from the community.

“Campus buildings do not have to be landmarked to have a significant effect on the historic character of the area,” Sheila Sullivan, president of the Southeast Evanston Association, wrote in a letter to the commission. “Although Northwestern’s construction and architecture is often well done and even noteworthy, the University also has a history of insensitivity to the impact it has on its neighbors and its surroundings.”

NU presented the proposal to the commission Feb. 10. Currently, the University must gain approval from the commission for any project within the historic zone, even if it is on a non-landmark building. Creating new subdivisions more closely enclosing the landmark buildings would save both the University and commission time and effort, said Bonnie Humphrey, NU’s design and construction director, at the proposal presentation.

Several members of the commission expressed misgivings about the plans and motives of the University.

“To me, it seems disingenuous that you’re worried about our workload, when the burden you want to relieve was not ours but yours,” commission member Elliott Dudnik said at the February meeting at the proposal presentation. “It’s insulting to me and the rest of the committee.”

SEA’s letter to the commission also cited the new visitor’s center and parking garage, one of the University’s most recent construction projects, as a testament to the University’s disregard for its surroundings.

The preservation commission voted unanimously to reject the proposal for that project in 2012 but was overridden by a city council vote to approve the project.

“Northwestern’s (subdivision) proposal appears to focus almost entirely on shrinking the area where the Preservation Commission and City Council have the right and responsibility to review and approve proposed changes, additions and removals on the east campus,” Sullivan wrote in the letter. “We urge the commission to reject Northwestern’s proposal.”

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