Here’s a recap of our live coverage of tonight’s Evanston City Council Administration and Public Works Committee meeting.

The meeting is scheduled to get underway at 5:45 p.m..

A packet with information on tonight’s agenda items is available online.

Key items on tonight’s agenda include a rewrite of the city’s liquor license code and amending the hotel tax to be able to collect the tax from online travel services.

Meeting called to order at 5:52 p.m.

This is the first meeting with a new camera and microphone system in the council chamber. Chair warns speakers to not get too close to the new, more sensitive mikes.

Payroll approved.

Bills approved.

Parking garage revenue control system maintenance contract $27,750 with DataPark … through end of the year. Approved.

Rock salt contract extension with Morton Salt for $485K. Approved.

Artortect Fungicide purchase from Rainbow Treecare for $31.5K. Approved.

Police HQ interior improvements $49K contract with O’Hara Construction of Evanston. Approved.

Grant from Age Options for $46K for congregate senior meal program … and award of contract renewal to Catholic Charities to provide the meals at Levy Center and Fleetwood-Jourdain center. Approved.

Hotel-motel tax code revision to make online travel companies pay the tax. Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar says hasn’t decided yet whether city should joined the proposed class action suit by other communities to collect back taxes from the companies.

Says not clear yet how much money city could realize from the expanded tax.

Approved.

Liquor Control ordinance rewrite.

Alderman Ann Rainey asks … can you bring children to a bar in Evanston.

Farrar says city doesn’t have anything in the code that addresses that. May be an issue more for the dram shop insurance of the individual bar owner.

Rainey says she’s concerned about one-day licenses for parties in public buildings that are for juveniles.

Farrar says license requires Basset training for license holders.

Rainey says there’s a real problem with parties where liquor is given away, rather than sold. Think is issue when events are held in public buildings.

Farrar says he’ll take the issue to the liquor control board.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, says she’d like to see a hard copy of the proposed revisions.

Farrar says he had some software problems in preparing a “red line” version showing the changes.

Farrar says since 1972 the code has been amended numerous times.

The new code tries to group the retail establishments at the front of the code, adds new business models toward the middle. Then at the end there’s non-retail oriented establishments, like veterans groups.

Grover asks if the code could include a chart of license types. Farrar says hopes to have a framework like that in the application documents.

Grover says she’d still like to see that in the code itself. Farrar says he’ll try to see if can come up with that.

Rainey asks whether are changing fees. Farrar says not in this revision, but could consider that in the future.

Rainey says have been very careful over the years because “liquor was going to destroy the town.” Obviously we’ve been successful, because it hasn’t destroyed the town, she says, chuckling.

Committee votes to hold the ordinance in committee for further discussion at a future meeting.

Discussion item … city banner policy

Public Works Director Suzette Robinson says is concern regarding employee risks and potential liability from damaged banners. Has memo discussing several proposed changes. If like ’em, would come up with a revised ordinance.

Wants to …restrict time period for banners….to good weather condition. Would limit to June 1 to October 31. Limit display time to three months plus a possible three month renewal.

Also want to eliminate banners on primary routes that have four lanes of traffic like Ridge Avenue and Green Bay Road. Says putting up banner on Green Bay can cause traffic to back up for blocks — for example from Lincoln Street to the Dunkin Donuts near the city limits.

Wants to limit banners to city-sponsored events and activities.

Rainey asks about banners by St. Francis on Ridge Avenue …or Northwestern …or Evanston Hospital…or other major institutions …if they waiver liability and pay companies to put up banners …and use them as an economic development tool…we ought to allow for that, she says.

Suggests maybe the city should go out of the banner business except for economic development projets. 

I don’t like banners, frankly, she says … but a lot of other people like them.

Robinson says there’s still legal exposure when the banner is attached to our light pole, even if somebody else puts them up.

Farrar says he doesn’t have any hard statistics about risk of suit from banners … but there’s always a potential for liability

Says has seen in City of Chicago banners coming down and obstructing traffic. Never know whether will happen here — in that context the first entity that would appear as defendant in a lawsuit would be the city.

Says there’s no free speech right of unlimited access to light poles, he says.

Grover says appreciates the operational and risk management issues. Says Central Street merchants just got city grant for new banners.

Says Green Bay offers great visibility from commuter trains. But don’t want to put employees at risk. Can schedule banner maintenance so doesn’t hit prime time?

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, asks about impact on business districts and individual businesses — says Chicago House of Chicken and Waffles is in the process of creating banners. Would Dempster Street be affected?

Robinson says yes would be affected. Says that part of Dempster is controlled by IDOT, and would be restricted because its private business advertising — not a business district sponsorship. Says it amounts to advertising — have to pay for it wherever you put it up.

Would have to ask IDOT whether they would approve.

Braithwaite says there are already banners on Dempster — and also signs and even flower pots on Dempster in Skokie.

Robinson says are proposing to not do advertising for private businesses on city light poles.

Also have issues regarding content — are no content restrictions now. 

Grover says it’s five months — June through October — could it be five months with option to renew for the subsequent year.

Robinson says it’s supposed to be May 1st.

Grover suggests have six month increment of banner display approval

Braithwaite says will want to do something special for Erie Health that will be opening up this fall on Dempster.

Braithwaite asks whether have been incidents in the past.

Robinson says the main issue driving it is cost. Cost $210 to city to put up a banner. Came up originally as part of a budget discussion. Also is question of whether should charge for the ad space on light poles.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz says city funds lots of banners — those dollars a scarce resources. Says banners sometimes are special — and seem to be getting away from that.

Suggest having banners up in the winter is a problem –because they don’t survive that well.

Green Bay and Ridge are lovely streets without banners, he says.

Says will come back to full council with a revised proposal soon.

Holmes says would be happy to take down the banners in her ward if block club signs go up.

Bobkiewicz says that issue will be coming back to Transportation/Parking Committee with that.

Says if can shift the business districts to signs from banners, that will dramatically reduce the total number of banners.

Says signs would be much less expensive over time than the banners.

Meeting adjourned at 6:41 p.m.

Planning and Development Committee meeting to start at 7:15 p.m.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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