Ald. Tom Suffredin (6th) wonders if the Second Church of Christ, Scientist will challenge Evanston’s historic preservation ordinance if the church building at 2715 Hurd Ave. is given landmark status.

The city’s Preservation Commission is scheduled to take a final vote Tuesday on recommending the City Council landmark the church, after an across-the-street neighbor nominated the property.

The city’s preservation ordinance does not require an owner’s approval to landmark a building — a step that imposes major restrictions on what an owner can do with a property.

“I don’t know if the Church will challenge it,” Suffredin told Evanston Now. But he thinks they might. “They’re very frustrated and they want out” of the 75-year-old structure, which is now too large for the congregation’s needs.

Neighborhood opposition killed two new potential uses. The first would have sold the building to the Salvation Army, which would have kept the structure for use as a worship and social service center. In the second, a pre-school would have purchased the church, demolished it, and replaced it with a daycare facility.

In both cases the prospective buyers backed out.

Most opponents of the two new uses cited traffic safety or racial equity (in the case of the preschool). There was minimal mention of the church’s history until the landmark nominator, Andrew Nebel, submitted his request.

Suffredin says “I’m not sure” about how he will vote and the landmark proposal.

It’s a tough call, he says. “The neighbors are reasonable with their concerns about traffic” for any potential new use. But the church pays no property taxes, so a taxable owner, like the preschool would bring the city needed revenue.

Four years ago, there was a somewhat similar case, where an owner wanted to tear down a property on Hinman Avenue, but a neighbor (who lived about a half a mile away), pushed for landmark status. The Preservation Commission agreed, and recommended it to Council.

But council rejected landmarking on a 7-2 vote. In that case, the property was a house. An attorney for the owner argued that landmarking against the owner’s will would deprive that owner of private property rights.

A church representative says the council members will be asked to vote no. Garry Shumaker, a former Preservation Commission chair who is now a consultant for the church, says comments will be made at the appropriate Council meeting.

Shumaker questions the Preservation Commission’s rationale for landmark status, saying the church building does not fit the necessary criteria.

As for whether the Christian Science Church will sue the City if council okays landmarking, Shumaker says he does not know.

Evanston Now contacted John Mauck, an attorney who worked for the Church when it was trying to sell the building to the Salvation Army, who had no comment.

Evanston Now also tried contacting the board chair for the Church, but we have not heard back.

The issue should go before Council later this summer. Suffredin says “I’m sure everybody wants this over with.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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