Aldermen allow Preservation Commission to visit Harley Clarke, deny statewide nonprofit


Colin Boyle/Daily Senior Staffer

Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) speaks at a City Council meeting. Revelle brought forward the motions to admit Preservation Commission members as well as Landmarks Illinois members to Harley Clarke Mansion.

Kristina Karisch, City Editor

Aldermen decided Monday that members of Evanston’s Preservation Commission will be allowed to visit the Harley Clarke Mansion in advance of an Oct. 23 meeting, though architects, engineers and assessors from statewide nonprofit Landmarks Illinois will not be admitted.

The historic mansion sits along the lakefront in north Evanston and has been vacant since 2015, when the Evanston Art Center moved out of the facility. Since then, residents and city officials have been deliberating future options for the property.

Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) brought forward the motions to admit Preservation Commission members as well as Landmarks Illinois members at Monday’s City Council meeting, though the latter was denied. She has long been a supporter of the mansion, advocating for its restoration and use as an environmental education center.

Though Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) ultimately supported the commission’s request, she was hesitant.

She argued that an interior inspection of the mansion falls outside of the purview of the commission, and she wondered if allowing the members to enter Harley Clarke would set a precedent the city was not ready to commit to.

“I am very concerned about how this discussion and the process proceeds,” she said. “Without some review by the City Council as to the expansion of those standards then I think we get into a very fuzzy area of setting precedent that really has no basis.”

She objected to letting architects and engineers from Landmarks Illinois — which works to preserve historic landmarks — into the building, saying it would rehash conversations across the city that should have ended when they agreed to demolition.

In July, City Council approved a demolition proposal of the building from a group of private donors under the name of Evanston Lighthouse Dunes, voting 5-3.

The group proposed a self-funded demolition of the Harley Clarke mansion in favor of green space during a May City Council meeting. The group plans to fund the demolition of the building entirely, leaving no cost to the city, and provide an additional $100,000 for landscaping costs once a design of the space is approved.

City staff will now move forward with a memorandum of understanding with Evanston Lighthouse Dunes to cover the demolition of the mansion, according to city documents. On Aug. 31, the city filed a certificate of appropriateness with the Preservation Commission to move forward with the demolition.

The issue will once again be brought before residents in the form of a non-binding citizen advisory referendum on the November ballot. According to city documents, the referendum asks if the city should “protect from demolition and preserve the landmark Harley Clarke building and gardens next to Lighthouse Beach,” and keep it as public property at “minimal or no cost to taxpayers.”

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