Recap: City Council

Here's a recap of our live coverage of this evening's special meeting of the Evanston City Council. Several issues dealing with affordable housing and concerns about changes to Pace and CTA bus service are among the items on tonight's agenda.

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

Meeting called to order at 6:10 p.m.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, is out of town. Aldermen Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, and Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, are expected to arrive late.

Catherine Hurley, the city's former sustainability manager, now on board of directors for STAR rating system, reports on new STAR Communities recognition for the city.

Public Comment

Dan Joseph, homeowner and retired CTA employee, objects to planned bus service cuts.

Says he's OK with dropping the 205. Suggests extending the 208 route to run to Howard Street and to the Skokie Courthouse -- with seven day service.

Sue Loellbach, Connections for the Homeless, says group Joining Forces for Affordable Housing is interested in getting things moving faster, but appreciates the work that is being done. Says Council should develop an affordable housing plan.

Group of ETHS students speak in favor of increasing amount of affordable housing in the community.

Tim Russell, 5th Ward resident at 1718 Leland, calls Morton Grove Niles pumping station decision "underhanded." Says "we're going to do what we need to do to stop it." Calls for hiring of Evanston residents for the construction project. 

Michael Deneroff, from NU student government, complains that there's been no action on the three-unrelated ordinance since the last Council special meeting on affordable housing three months ago. Says it denies people the opportunity to make use of tenant protection ordinances. Says three-unrelated is outdated.

Sarah Vanderwicken, 1st Ward resident, says other places use zoning variances as a payback to developers for affordable housing.

Says city's planned development ordinance should be revised so that affordable housing is a greater public benefit than other "vague" public benefits now listed in the ordinance.

Says there should be more affordable housing in all wards -- including the 1st.

Virginia Ayers, resident since 1969, retired ETHS employee, now on Interfaith Action Advocacy Team. Thanks Council for making affordable housing a key goal.

Hopes to see another meeting of the inclusionary housing ordinance committee "real soon."

Misty Witenberg, 5th Ward, objects to pumping station.

Cecilia Wollin, 18 year resident, says she has no car and is concerned about impact of proposed bus route changes. Says many people with disabilities have no other option besides public transportation. Says for them bus service is generally more accessible that trains. Most Purple Line stations aren't handicap accessible.

Doug Sharp, 9th Ward, urges immediate resumption of meetings of the inclusionary housing ordinance subcommittee.

Patrick Donnelly, of Evanston Lake House and Gardens group, says the Harley Clarke building is there -- and maybe we should keep it -- find  way to do it -- keep thinking about it and doing it.

Says hopes can get a couple more votes on the Council for the ELHG project.

End of public comment

SP 1 - Direct public transit service to ETHS.

Mayor thanks aldermen, County Commissioner Suffredin, U.S. Rep Schakowsky for their support in favor of continued bus service.

Chris Canning, member Pace board of directors, says that at a meeting a while back said there was concern from then Mayor Tisdahl and other officials about there being "a lot of buses" on the streets of Evanston. (Concerns expressed about trying to reduce the congestion.

Says about 90 people showed up for the Levy Center meeting last week. Says the Pace board will not vote on the proposed route changes at its May meeting.

Mike Connelly, VP of planning for CTA, says thanks for the support shown for public transit, and the comments on the service changes.

Says knows that service changes do have impacts on people. Says will come up with a final service plan "soon."

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, says having meeting at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon wasn't a good idea -- should be at times when most of the public can come out and participate.

Pace rep says try to have it when bus service is available for people coming to and going home from the meeting -- notes that most Pace buses don't run in the evening.

Wynne suggests holding multiple meetings then.

Resolution approved unanimously (8-0).

SP 2 - Affordable Housing Work Plan

Savanah Clement, housing policy analyst with the city gives update on projects.

Says expect to have housing finance workshop -- taking longer than expected to set that up. Says now have four panelists for presentation at 6:30 p.m. on May 30. Announces names of panelists.

Updates on several issues here.

Sarah Flax, grants administrator, provides update on issues coming up for discussion this evening ... including the Geometry in Construction home building program with ETHS.

SP 3 - Intergovernmental Agreement with ETHS

Alderman Wilson calls for vote on that resolution ... it's approved unanimously.

SP 4 - Accessory dwelling units

Flax says it appears these offer a lot of opportunity to expand affordable housing in Evanston. Says staff is looking for direction to draft a comprehensive ordinance on that issue.

Related story

Flax says there appears to be a broader interest in the issue across the Chicago area.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, asks about process -- says it would affect zoning ordinance and all sorts of things -- is very complicated.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz says at the Council's preference, it could go to the Planning and Development Committee, or directly to Plan Commisison.

Fiske says should go to P&D first.

Says is HACC is considering adding 80 units to the 1900 Sherman building -- would be moderate income, not as heavily subsidized as existing units there.

Wilson says should requiring a certificate of occupancy process to approve accessory dwelling units.

Wilson moves to refer the issue to the Planning and Development Committee. Approved unanimously.

SP 5 - Special use for small lot housing

Flax says would like to explore special use treatment for smaller lots.

One option could having some housing units that didn't face the street -- be on a "laneway." (This might be like a traditional California bungalow court.)

Says would try to develop a "considered process" for the new options.

Wilson says he appreciates the idea. Says when he was on ZBA it was hard to say no to some ideas that seemed good, but lacked a legal path to get there.

Says trend in recent years has been to tear down small houses and replace them with big ones. Should be some ebb and flow -- return to some smaller houses.

Fiske says 100 years ago city had large homes and large lots. Smaller houses were moved away from the lake to other wards. Says city has been infilled over time in a variety of ways.

Says in 700 and 800 block of Central Street there are "flag lots" with two houses on a lot -- one in front, one to the back.

Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, suggests 2221 Darrow vacant lot as prototype for this.

On Wilson's motion this item is referred to the Planning and Development Committee

Some related, but off-agenda items ...

Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, says NU is preparing for the next Solar Decathalon in 2020 -- wants to find a site for the home built for that in advance. Says have identified a site that could hold two units, perhaps plus an accessory dwelling unit. Suggests putting them in a land trust. Asks staff to work to advance the proposal.

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, asks what ward it's in. Revelle says it's planned for a city owned parking lot across from the city's service center.

Wilson says he would like to repeal the three-unrelated ordinance, suggests referring that to the Planning and Development Committee. Fleming seconds.

Fiske suggests waiting until after have a year's worth of data about NU requiring sophomores to live on campus. Doesn't want to move forward now.

Fleming says she understands Fiske's concern but has been a lot of public comment about three-unrelated -- says a lot of people in her ward who want to move on this. Says people on her ward want to be able to share housing. Says should at least have a discussion now and move forward.

Fiske says she doesn't think the ordinance now puts anyone at a disadvantage. Says directly affects people in her ward. Says NU change may make some housing more affordable for families.

Wilson says the Daily Northwestern republished a 1975 front page about lack of affordability even back then. Says issue has lingered for decades -- it's time to move the conversation forward.

Revelle suggests allowing more than three unrelated in an owner-occupied home. Would help senior citizens or lower income families.

Fiske says that's a good suggestion -- and is why she recommended the rooming house concept. Says no one is trying to keep students fro having good safe affordable housing. But how can do that and make permanent residents feel comfortable.

Motion restated to have a discussion ... not have a repeal ordinance prepared.

Motion approved unanimously.

Revelle proposes that Housing and Homelessness Commission be directed to develop an affordable housing plan -- that would give way to measure impact, assess housing needs of different populations and develop clear goals and outcomes, and recommend priorities.

Braithwaite says issue has attention of full council -- doesn't understand the goal of this new motion. What's committee to do that we're not already asking staff to do?

Revelle says there could be other strategies beyond those identified so far. Says need broader framework.

Mayor says he supports Revelle's idea. Says commission can help decide how to spend the money that goes into the affordable housing fund.

Fleming says she's hesitant to send it to the Commission. Maybe that comes from the Downtown Plan confusion. Says doesn't want to set another group of people into motion and then perhaps reject it.

Says perhaps have them do an assessment instead?

Wilson says maybe it's a little premature to start the commission work until have gotten through the work list that the council already has.

Notes that HUD may be raising the minimum rent for subsidized housing -- could hit very fast.

Revelle suggests starting with a needs assessment. Says could work in tandem.

Mayor suggests having staff come back with a proposed scope of work for a commission to tackle. Says that would be easier than trying to thrash it out at the meeting tonight.

Bobkiewicz asks when want to discuss that? Says could have a 5th Monday meeting in July ... or on the 3rd Monday of July? (Preference is for July 30th.)

Flax says could get the assessment report by the start of June ... ahead of the July meeting

Bobkiewicz says the needs for affordable housing are overwhelming -- will never have the resources to meet all the needs.

SP 6 - Priority Based Budgeting Process

Hitesh Desai, CFO, introduces priority-based budgeting discussion ... presented in depth by Kate Lewis-Lakin, senior management analyst.

Presentation here.

Related story.

Says will include description of the 54 programs considered for elimination in a public survey during may.

Says will be asked to rank their top 10 and 10 they'd most be willing to cut.

Says will be available starting May 10 online, on paper and by phone.

Wynne asks whether survey will be tested out ahead of time. Says at ward meeting she learned that people could only take the street lighting survey only once -- but needed to have reviewed the materials and visited the sites before you open the survey. Says should test the survey to spot any problems with people not having sufficient information.

Fiske says if aren't going to make cuts because need to provide the service.

Bobkiewicz says there will be information on the description of the services and the costs involved.

Says if go through it and don't find anything that can be cut, then it's a waste.

Fiske asks about establishing a park district with an elect board that would be a separate taxing body.

Braithwaite and Fleming raise questions about programs that get outside funding. Bobkiewicz says they may only be partially funded by outside sources.

Fiske wants survey extended until after her ward meeting in June.

Bobkiewicz says can do that. Extend survey to June 7.

Bobkiewicz says the items on the list may represent about 25 percent of the general fund budget.

Says will likely to have budget cuts from police and fire as well -- won't be able to make the budget balance and not raise taxes unless there are cuts there as well.

Braithwaite wants demographic information from survey respondents. Told that's already part of the plan.

Motion to accept the report is approved on a voice vote. Staff to continue the work on it.

Call of the wards

Suffredin ... asks for map of all restricted parking zones -- where they are, permits issued, capacity of zone, etc.... wants discussion of reviewing all the zones periodically.

Wynne says city doesn't count all the spaces on the street. Every resident could have zero cars or five cars -- doesn't say can only have two permits.

Suffredin says wants just to know the number of permits issued.

Mayor says concerned about amount of work being placed on city staff.

Braithwaite asks what problem Suffredin's trying to solve.

Suffredin says he's happy to do just his ward. Says work has been done -- wants the information collated so can have discussion in the A&PW meeting

Wilson tries to clarify whether asking only for places where people are buying permits.

Says review every five years would be very extensive and contentious.

Wynne says the issue should go to the Transportation and Parking Committee.

Says had 10 to 15 peope at the meeting last week because of issue Suffredin raised for that meeting.

Wynne says Suffredin is wasting staff tie.

Hagerty asks for second to the question.

Fleming says she's puzzled that are having a huge debate about the aldermanic referral.

Braithwaite suggests Suffredin meet with the city manager to focus the request.

Suffredin says he's happy to restrict it to his ward.

But says parking is a huge issue -- when restrict parking everybody who doesn't live in that zone gets disadvantaged. Should reexamine that. Says concerned about people visiting shopping districts parking on side streets.

Bobkiewicz says will give the best info can within a certain amount of effort. Says decisions go back many years and decisions from more than a decade ago are not as complete as might like.

Fleming says she'd like to have her ward included as well.

Wynne ... May 3 7p at Lincoln School ... Garden Park rehab planning

Meeting adjourned at 9 p.m.





Why so defensive?

The reaction to Ald. Suffredin's information request certainly made me raise an eyebrow. Why were so many others so defensive and aggressive in response? This would seem to be something that might warrant further investigation.

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