Council approves NU proposal
Aldermen have to do something to stop making "very poor and shortsighted" decisions, said First Ward Alderman Judy Fiske (shown at left of picture), the lone council member Monday to oppose Northwestern University's construction of a Visitor's Center and
Updated: December 19, 2012 11:17AM
Evanston City Council members rejected a plea Monday night by a group of lakefront residents to hold off granting Northwestern University the last piece it needed to move forward on a Visitor’s Centers and 435 space parking garage to be located off the south entranceway to campus, just north of the city’s Clark Street beach.
Others area residents called for aldermen to turn down the university’s request for a fire lane which runs on city property and which the university needed to move the project forward.
“Don’t do it for chump change,’’ one speaker, Matt Mirapaul, urged council members about the city’s proposed $10,000 a year lease with the university for the fire lane.
“It’s time to stop drinking the purple and time to start serving Evanston,” he told council members.
Residents have raised environmental and esthetic concerns about the project, particularly how it would affect a grove of trees and shrubberies that harbor wildlife just north of Clark Street Beach.
They wanted the council to hold off approval and persuade the university to build farther north into campus.
Some spoke of the incompatibility of the glass and steel project with the Lakefront Plan the city approved after a long public process several years ago, and which recommended strongly preserving the area for passive recreation.
“We want to keep it open, natural,” said Ann Jennett, another lakefront resident. “The idea wasn’t to give cars a lakefront view.”
Council members mostly sidestepped the residents concerns, voting 6-1 to back a motion by Alderman Jane Grover that would have the university pay up front for use of the fire lane-bike path.
Grover’s proposal called on the university to pay an upfront maintenance cost, totaling roughly $250,000 covering 25 years. It did away with $1-a-year 25-year lease terms that some residents objected to.
Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward alderman and a university employee, did not participate in the discussion or the vote.
Alderman Judy Fiske cast the lone vote against. Alderman Melissa Wynne, a critic of the plan, was unable to make the meeting because of a health issue.
Under Grover’s proposal, the city would lease the fire lane to the university at cost of $10,237 per year. The total fees for the easement over the first 25 years of the lease would total about $255,000.
The university would also comply with the city’s tree ordinance and pay a replacement fee of $173,800 to the city to be used for any tree plantings needed as a result of the project, said Grover.
“We want the university to build the path for us in a way that is environmentally sound,’’ she said.
Fiske, in whose First Ward the project is located, said Grover’s prospect sounded interesting but would nevertheless allow the university “to cut down trees and basically sanitize the area.”
“Ten thousand is not enough,” she said, noting the university has a $7 billion endowment.
Fourth Ward Alderman Don Wilson, who had raised questions about the value of the grove at a previous meeting, said he had since looked up the circumstances of the wooded area.
If one were to go back to the Sixties, before the university built up the campus, “that eco-system we keep talking about, didn’t exist. It was water,’’ he said.
Council members had previously rejected the findings of their Preservation Commission, calling the project incompatible, particularly with a Daniel Burnham-designed building, Fiske Hall, located just to the west.