City Council votes to move forward with Artists Book House’s plan for Harley Clarke Mansion

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Daily file photo by Evan Robinson-Johnson

The Harley Clarke Mansion, 2603 Sheridan Rd. On Monday, City Council chose Artists Book House out of four proposals for a lease for the property, and will move forward with the group.

Jacob Fulton, Design Editor

After extensive delays and community-wide conflict, the years-long debate about the future of the Harley Clarke Mansion appears to be headed toward resolution after City Council voted Monday to accept Artists Book House’s proposal for the property.

The final tally on the issue was 7-1, with Ald. Tom Suffredin (6th) as the lone dissention and Ald. Ann Rainey (8th), who attended the meeting, abstaining from the vote. One of four groups who submitted proposals for the property, Artists Book House hopes to transform the mansion into a literary center.

The organization received the highest rating in a weighted review of the proposals from city staff members which looked at factors including public benefit and financial plausibility. The panel consisted of eight city staff members representing sectors such as the city’s Public Works Agency and Community Development Department, as well as its purchasing division in the city manager’s office, city Management Analyst Tasheik Kerr said.

With minimal internal dissent, many aldermen said the plan Artists Book House presented met the criteria previously outlined.

Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) said one of the deciding factors in her vote was the potential impact of the proposal on the surrounding community — including in the planned frequency of large-scale events and rentals, which factored into multiple groups’ plans for the property’s continued financial sustainability.

“While I think that every one of these is interesting, and meets some of these criterias, I believe that the Book House best meets those,” Wynne said. “The fact that it can coexist with the beach and the park best, and we’ll have the fewest number of events is something that’s really significant to me.”

However, the vote didn’t come without some opposition. Some community members released statements calling on City Council to delay the vote due to insufficient time for community participation, considering the results of the staff review were released in the meeting’s agenda on Thursday, just days before the vote. Among them were representatives of Evanston Community Lakehouse & Gardens — one of the four groups to submit a proposal, which had previously negotiated a lease for the property in 2018 that was abruptly terminated — and the Central Street Neighbors Association.

Over a dozen residents spoke about the vote during public comment, many of whom expressed concerns about the timing of City Council’s decision. Community members who spoke, including resident Allie Harned, discussed how a limited time frame for public response can reduce community input.Some also questioned whether the current City Council should vote on a long-standing city issue so close to an election.

“The people in Evanston want to participate in the future of the home and the lake,” Harned said. “Give people more time to participate, do not award the lease tonight, wait for the next council to take their seats and let them write the next chapters.”

However, some aldermen said the timing of the vote wasn’t intended to be so close to the election — the delayed review process for the proposals was an unexpected side effect of COVID-19.

This reasoning, along with the fact that the current Council has worked on the project for years, led to officials’ decision to move forward with the proposals. Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th) said she wouldn’t feel comfortable delaying the vote until the next City Council took office because of the project’s proximity to completion. Though the next Council, which will be elected in April, will have to implement the plan, Fleming said this vote will provide the representatives with a sense of closure on the issue and a clear starting point.

“Just as I sat here four years ago and was left with Harley Clark and several other items, I don’t think that’s fair for me to leave that with other people,” Fleming said. “I’m sure people will disagree… but it’s just not good government to leave things that you can take care of that are so close to being finished.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @jacobnfulton

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