Council introduces sale of EPL parking lot amid residents’ development concerns


Daily file photo by Nathan Richards

The outside of Evanston Public Library. City Council passed a motion Monday to introduce selling the parking lot adjacent to the library.

Amelia Langas, Assistant City Editor

Members of City Council introduced a motion Monday to sell the downtown Evanston Public Library parking lot to developers.

Although the introduction passed 7-2 — with Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) and Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) voting “no” — some residents were concerned about the addition of an 11-story building to the city landscape.

The potential sale of the parking lot was first brought to the council on July 11, 2016. By April 2017, the city had received three bids for purchasing the lot and decided to accept the bid of $4 million from a development partnership consisting of principals Greg Stec and Bruce Larson, plus the company Conor Commercial, according to city documents. Conor Commercial has since stepped down from development, according to the documents.

The property is city-owned land and located near the historic Frances Willard House and next to the Woman’s Club of Evanston. Rona Green Taylor, president of the Woman’s Club, said the organization had previously raised concerns about the development and the city had put club members in touch with the developers.

“We feel that (they) have understood our concerns and have continued to cooperate with us,” Taylor said. “Together we are figuring out an indemnification process to protect us from any harm resulting from the construction of the proposed development.”

Larson, one of the developers for the project, said the building would pay almost $1 million in fees and close to $2 million a year in taxes if the process continues — no city money would be spent on the project. Larson said he and the other developers are working with an Evanston architect, Paul Janicki, so the building coheres with the rest of the downtown area. Larson also noted that about 500 jobs would result from the building’s construction.

Evanston resident Mike Raguseo said he supports the decision to sell the lot because he is “concerned” about the budgetary issues the city has been facing.

“My concern is how we can leverage (the lot) for the city and its constituents,” Raguseo said. “We have a project before us that will bring almost $2 million in tax revenue to the city. … This is an opportunity that can be a net positive for everyone involved.”

However, there were some who still expressed opposition to the selling of the lot. Resident Trisha Connolly said she was “concerned and disappointed” that the city would consider selling “public” land.

Resident Carl Klein said the city is disregarding the 2000 Evanston Comprehensive General Plan and the 2009 Evanston Downtown Plan, as well as zoning ordinances. The 2000 plan states that the city must work to preserve the balance between office, retail and residential space downtown.

“While the city has a $3.3 million budget shortfall and is desperate for dollars, developers are dictating what our city should look like by proposing planned unit developments,” Klein said.

City manager Wally Bobkiewicz told The Daily that although these plans are in place, they are guidelines and have not been enacted into law.

Bobkiewicz said the city needs to continue to improve economic activity in the downtown area, and the office space in the new building would ensure new workers contribute thoo that activity.

City Council will vote to move the real estate negotiations into action at its next meeting on Sept. 25.

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