Shakespeare said brevity is the soul of wit. If so, by Evanston standards, Monday’s debate on the planned Fountain Square tower was witty indeed.

Some tower opponents await their minute at the mike.

Evanston aldermen, operating under a new set of rules designed speed the decision-making process on planned developments, managed to get through public comment on the 49-story tower project by giving most speakers just one minute to make their points.

But those were Evanston minutes, so it took a bit over two hours for the Planning and Development Committee to hear from a total of about 40 speakers.

The aldermen adopted the new rules over a year ago, but this was the first time they were applied to a highly-controversial project.

Public testimony on several projects in recent years had dragged on for months while the council operated under a since-overturned court ruling that turned the public hearings into quasi-judicial proceedings with a lengthy process of cross-examining witnesses.

The new rules actually call for limiting the discussion to a total of 30 minutes — 15 minutes for the applicant and its supporters and 15 minutes for opponents.

Some speakers seemed startled by the new time limits, but others came prepared with longer written statements to distribute to the aldermen and just a brief summary to read to the crowd.

And not everybody was limited to a minute Monday. The committee chair, Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, gave John Kennedy, representing the Evanston Coalition for Responsible Development, 20 minutes to deliver an extended PowerPoint presentation objecting to the tower.

That roughly matched the time given the project developers at last week’s meeting to make their PowerPoint presentation supporting the project.

The aldermen spent another hour Monday asking questions about the project and then adjourned, with plans to continue the tower debate at their next meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, March 24.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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