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The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Residents frustrated that ‘five folks with a vote’ intend to approve NU’s MOU

Daily file photo by Seeger Gray
Residents raised concerns about NU’s proposed MOU at Thursday’s town hall with Alds. Bobby Burns and Devon Reid.

Residents expressed frustrations about Northwestern’s proposed Memorandum of Understanding — and councilmembers’ intention to approve the agreement — at a town hall meeting Thursday.

Over 40 residents attended the town hall virtually and in person to discuss their concerns with hosts Alds. Devon Reid (8th) and Bobby Burns (5th). 

The town hall precedes the upcoming City Council meeting on Nov. 20, where councilmembers will vote on whether to rebuild Ryan Field and rezone the area to allow concerts. NU’s updated MOU, which establishes plans for University-city negotiations and includes a community benefits agreement for Evanston, will also face a vote.

Councilmembers voted 6-2 to table the three ordinances related to Ryan Field at Monday’s City Council meeting. After NU released an updated MOU on Sunday, some councilmembers said they needed more time to review the full proposed agreement.

The new MOU includes an expanded community benefits agreement, in which NU pledged to pay $150 million to Evanston over 15 years — up from $100 million over 10 years in the initial proposal. Many of the benefits included in the proposal are reliant on the council allowing concerts at the stadium.

The expanded MOU and community benefits package are the result of weeks of negotiations with the University, Reid said at Monday’s meeting.

The town hall allowed residents to voice their opinions NU’s MOU and how City Council should vote. Many residents urged Reid and Burns to go back to the negotiation table with NU. 

However, Reid said “five folks with a vote” on City Council are in support of approving the MOU. 

“I couldn’t call it a done deal now, but there are five councilmembers who, as it stands today, support it,” Reid said. 

On Oct. 30, councilmembers voted 5-4 to introduce the Ryan Field ordinances, with Mayor Daniel Biss breaking a 4-4 tie. 

Several residents said they disapproved of the council’s disregard for the recommendation of the Land Use Commission, which recommended that the council vote against concerts at Ryan Field in October. The commission’s hearing on the project came before NU announced the CBA. 

“Councilmembers who want to see this zoning happen (should) apologize to the (Land Use Commission), to members who spent hours listening to oral testimony, hours reading testimony and voted overwhelmingly not to approve the zoning,” Evanston resident Caroline Latta said.

However, Reid and Burns acknowledged that the commission is a “recommending body,” and the council is not required to follow its recommendations. 

Resident Jill Greer also noted the MOU implies that if the city wishes to amend the ordinances after signing the agreement, the city would be legally liable. 

“Northwestern (is) asking the city to definitively acknowledge that Northwestern is relying on the ordinances as approved,” Greer said. “I think Northwestern has protected itself and drafted a very one-sided agreement.”

Greer said that while NU’s MOU is perpetual, the community benefits agreement only lasts 15 years. She argued that the city will have no legal standing to negotiate continued benefits because it will be unable to amend its ordinances without potential legal action from NU. 

Burns said that he would raise questions about this part of the MOU at Monday’s meeting. 

Some residents said they felt the city should have organized a publicly-appointed task force to negotiate community benefits with NU.

Reid said that while he supported “another process” for evaluating and negotiating the agreement, instituting a task force now would “derail” the process. 

“I wish the process would have been better, but the process was what it was,” Reid said. “The publicly appointed team are the nine councilmembers and the mayor (who) were elected by the residents to represent you.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @LilyOgburn

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