Evanston’s Electoral Board this morning rejected the first of three objections filed against an advisory referendum sought by advocates of preserving the lakefront Harley Clarke mansion.

Herb Harms.

The objection, filed by Herb Harms, claimed that the referendum language was misleading in claiming that preserving the mansion would be consistent with the city’s 2008 Lakefront Master Plan.

But Harms mainly referenced earlier plans for the lakefront, going back more than a century, in arguing that replacing the mansion with open space would be more in line with city goals.

Jeff Smith.

Attorney Jeff Smith, representing petition filer Allison Harned, argued that preserving the mansion would be consistent with the lakefront plan, but that even it it were not, it was not the role of the electoral board to consider the merits of an advisory petition’s language.

The Electoral Board is composed of the mayor, the city clerk and the longest-serving alderman.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, initially proposed postponing a decision on the Harms objection until the two other objections are heard sometime next week. But she ultimately joined Mayor Steve Hagerty and Clerk Devon Reid in voting to dismiss the objection, agreeing with Smith’s argument about the limits of the board’s oversight role.

The referendum would ask voters in November: “Shall the City of Evanston protect from demolition and preserve the landmark Harley Clarke buildings and gardens next to Lighthouse Beach for use and access as public property, consistent with the Evanston Lakefront Master Plan, at minimal or no cost to Evanston taxpayers?”

The petition for the referendum was submitted with more than 3,300 signatures.

One of the other objections to the referendum attacks it on several grounds, including being vague for failing to define “minimal cost” and unclear for failing to note that the cost of rehabilitation has been estimated at more than $5 million and that years of efforts to raise that amount have so far failed.

The other remaining objection to the referendum suggests it “makes about as much sense as asking voters whether they’d like the City Council to approve distributing $500 in cash to each resident ‘at minimal or no cost to Evanston taxpayers.’”

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Harley referendum

    If they can’t make Harley Clarke economically viable, it needs to be torn down.

    Maybe the solution is that each of the 3300 petitioners who want to save Harley Clark each donate $1,500 towards the preservation of Harley Clarke?  

    1. Harley Referendum

      For years support to keep Harley Clarke Mansion city owned property have argued that “Parks are for people and not for profit” in effect belonging to us all.  I agree. With that comes the liabiltiy of ownership. The city needs to do one of two things:

      1) Find the money to fund the cost of holding this asset in place until an actual purpose can be determined. Those who have strongly supported keeping this city owned should demonstrate the courage of their conviction by demonstrating their support behind any effort the city would undertake to levy a nominal tax in order to fund this objective. I would support it.  Would you?  

      2) OR comparitively ask ALL the citizens how they feel about privatizing this asset based upon a very stringent criteria that would protect the dunes and the majority of the open park space vs a nominal tax hike. That should be discussed with actual numbers.  Let the citizens understand how much capital and future tax revenue might be unshackled if this were considered and how much it would cost to hold this property in place  I would support that as well.

      If people are truly interested in knowing what the community wants vs that a few hundred, I say let’s find out.

      Destroying this asset is wasteful. The city council shouldn’t  be swayed from it’s duty to make a proper decision the moment a handful of people show up with a checkbook, in effect offering to “evaporate” this issue, thus saving the council from further headache. It’s governing by affluence and privilege and not by the will of the community.

      We can do better.  We have.


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