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Recap: City Council

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Here’s a recap of our live coverage of tonight’s Evanston City Council meeting.

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

Items on tonight’s agenda include discussion of possible impact fees for new developments and options for the artificial turf surface at the new Robert Crown Center.

Meeting called to order at 7:07 p.m.

Mayor makes several announcements … including happy there’s now a princess, Megan Markle, from Evanston …

A video presentation on National Historic Preservation Month … and the city’s annual preservation awards.

National Gun Violence Awareness Day is June 2 … mayor says … it’s wear orange day … says will be a rally at Fountain Square 10 a.m. that day.

Kimberly Richardson, interim administrative services director, announces award for 100 best fleets in the Americas. Says tens of thousands of communities applied for the award.

Sheila Merry, executive director of Evanston Cradle to Career program, makes presentation. Says goal is to provide everyone equitable access to services.

Public Comment

35 people signed up to speak.

Oliver Ruff complains about possible budget cuts.

Nicolette Jones supports youth and young adult outreach program. Says it’s helped all of her kids.

Some of her children describe how the program benefited them.

Jessica Sales, social worker, speaks in favor of mental health board funding.

Lonnie Wilson praises city’s youth and young adult program. Says old way — of just starting another basketball program — didn’t work.

Other speakers praise the program.

Jennifer Berger, social worker at Oakton Elementary School, also speaks in favor of maintaining the youth outreach worker program.

Suggests average citizen doesn’t have the information needed to decide what’s important.

Sarah Vanderwicken says city report on impact fees doesn’t address affordable housing — her big issue. Says other communities are charging impact fees on commercial development projects to support affordable housing. Says Boston has raised $47 million that way.

Bennett Johnson claims that opponents to turning over Harley Clarke to the Lakehouse group are opposed to having black people on the lakefront.

John Kennedy says his soccer player daughter developed Hodgkins cancer, which he claims was a result of playing on artificial turf made with crumb rubber. Says first job of government is the safety of its citizens.

SP 1 – Public Benefits and Impact Fees from Planned Developments

Johanna Leonard, community development director, makes presentation.

Says there are questions about what eliminating “blight” means in the Evanston context.

Says LEED silver is now required by law, but the public benefit framework lists it as a public benefit

Says Illinois law doesn’t permit application of “impact fees” for affordable housing.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, says should eliminate the language that’s in conflict with current ordinances.

Wynne says would like to reduce the vagueness of the current standards and be more specific about what’s more important to the city that other items.

Says should get equal public benefits for equal concessions from the city.

Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, criticizes vagueness of standards. Says more “actual benefits” — suggests she likes the Albion project proposal for improving the park across the street.

Says she likes the idea of impact fees for parks and recreation centers.

Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, says she agrees with Fleming about impact fees for parks.

Suggests trying to do more investment in “high opportunity” areas in the community.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, (who originally proposed having the impact fee discussion) says she’d be willing to put impact fees on the back burner for now. Says aldermen should be involved in determining public benefits. Says Chicago aldermen have a community committee that can make recomendations about benefits.

Says now nobody’s talking to aldermen about what public benefits from projects should be.

Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, recommends classifying benefits as high or lower priority. Says they need to be more clear and specific.

Mayor Steve Hagerty asks whether council is interested in impact fees?

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, says he’d like to focus more on the public benefits. Sees impact fees as a slippery slope. Says to Rainey’s point, you want to be involved, but the more involved you are, you’re likely to be accused of having done something wrong by people opposed to the project.

Assistant City Manager Erika Storlie suggests providing an update by the end of July or August.

SP 2 – Implementation of West Evanston form-based code and impact on potential new development

Johanna Leonard says had very lengthy community process more than a decade ago to develop a form-based code for the area. (Here’s her presentation.)

Scott Mangam, zoning administrator, says the plan addressed the area along the old Mayfair railroad right of way from Simpson Street to Lake Street.

Says plan hoped to reconnect the streets in the area and make various other improvements.

Plan also was specific about new housing types in the area. It has very detailed zoning overlay rules.

In response to question from Rainey, Leonard says the Church Street Village project and a proposal for low-income housing at Church and Darrow that was rejected by the Council created interest in doing more planning in the area. It also happened at the peak of the housing boom last decade.

Mangam says there’s been little in the way of developer interest in the area since the plan was developed.

Rue Simmons says she wants to remove barriers that are keeping us from prioritizing west side development. Wants outreach to developers to encourage progress in the area.

Leonard says have had developers who wanted to do something similar to the Church Street Village project and some developers who aren’t inclined to pay for the streets and sidewalks called for in the plan.

Developers say here’s what’s economically feasible. But plan requires them to devote half their property to a road.

Leonard says sometimes developers can be persuaded to upgrade their plans. Says in 2010 developer wanted to build a one-story CVS at Main and Chicago — ended up with nine-story building there now.

Says are getting more interest now from developers looking for available tracts of land.

Wilson says he’s not a big fan of form-based codes. Says the landscape change a lot between 2007 and 2010. (Compares situation with west side plan to the 2009 downtown plan — which he suggested became somewhat irrelevant by the time it was adopted.)

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, says the west Evanston plan now is dated.

Mentions National Awards property on Church Street — says not everything over there is for sale. But when a property turns over it automatically flips to residential, under the new zoning.

Leonard says still need to grapple with the turnover from commercial to residential.

Braithwaite says have to proceed on a case-by-case basis.

Wynne says the plan connected parts of the neighborhood that were disconnected — and that fundamental principal was a good one — visioning on how to create streets where there weren’t streets.

But she says in some ways the plan has become an impediment to development.

Rue Simmons says a lot more needs to be uncovered, may be revealed in the Economic Development Committee.

Says doesn’t think need consultants, but staff and community input.

Need to start prioritizing the west side.

Storlie says the frustration exists for staff as well as aldermen. Says not sure can do it completely in house. Says discussion Wednesday night (at EDC) will be important — regarding the West Evanston TIF.

(Skipping over SP3 for the moment, at the mayor’s direction …)

SP 4 – Robert Crown Community Center update

Presentation

Storlie says hope to have community center finished by the middle of next year, with the turf fields done by 2020.

Pete Giangrecco from Friends of Robert Crown says last update said have raised $11 million.

Says now have identified 15 lead gift targets ($250K or more) … typically need 4 targets to get 1 committed

Also have a bunch of meetings with potential donors in the $100K to $250K range.

Says reasonably confident will get to $15 million goal by the end of the year.

Storlie says project cost as of February was projected at $48.5 million.

Estimated cost now is $52.9 million.

Says soil is less contaminated that feared, but will need to dig foundation deeper than originally expected.

Have added a $400K public art budget (to meet the city’s 1 percent for public art ordinance provision).

And have increased contingency amount of the contract.

Says cost of steel has gone up (federal rules regarding tariffs, etc.) increasing cost by $500K.

Says have been going through value-engineering process.

Hitesh Desai, CFO, says he’s budgeting for $52.9 million in spending. How much the city will have to issue bonds for will be impacted by how much the Friends have been able to raise in cash.

Says total bond amount likely to be $42.5M

Debt service $1.6M for 1st five years then $2.9M for years 6 to 25.

Storlie says there’s an 8 percent contingeny fund built into the project.

Lara Biggs, from Public Works Agency, discusses planned contract with construction firm.

Says will get fixed price contract that will have contingency pools to adjust for changes.

Fleming says she’s interested in finding new revenue to fund portions of the Crown project.

Mayor says don’t want to see property taxes increase — alternatives are spending cuts or finding new revenue sources.

Fleming suggests devoting the revenue from projected sale of the library parking lot for $4 million to Crown.

Storlie says will be a lot of discussion about how to fund the project.

(Says hopes will get a planned development submission from the library lot developer within the next month or two.)

Braithwaite asks about additional revenue from the new Crown facility.

Parks Director Lawrence Hemingway says there’s a draft document of projected revenues that was prepared about six months ago.

Says having two sheets of ice will increase the revenue … and other facilities will as well.

Storlie says there’s a difficult balance between having the facility rented out and generating revenue and having the facility available for public use. Also says the bigger facility will increase operating costs as well as revenue.

Says none of the community centers now are revenue positive and Crown won’t be either. Also have to provide for a maintenance fund to prolong the building’s life — which will soak up some of the additional revenue.

Braithwaite suggests selling liquor as another revenue source.

Fleming questions whether city needs to be in the parking deck business. Says just can’t tax people any more. Says is concerned about other capital improvement projects that may be ignored

Wynne, the Transportation and Parking Committee chair, asks whether she’s thinking about selling one of the parking decks?

Fleming says yes, maybe in long run don’t need to own those.

Wynne says look at Chicago and the disasterous effects of the sale of their parking system and the skyway — it has not worked very well at all.

Rainey says need to know whether the city is making money on the garages — and that the city actually does make money. Should get report on how much.

Says need to talk to citizen groups and say that the city can finance all the social services and all the things people want — if we get more development. Says can talk till blue in the face about impact fees — but if there’s no development won’t get anything from it

Listening to arguements that we need Harley Clarke, need money for mental health and can’t have any big buildings downtown..its almost like we’re living in lala land, Rainey says. “We’ve turned down some spectacular projects that would generate major revenue.”

Hagerty says doing the analysis of what Fleming proposes would make sense. Says could have a distinct fee dedicate to Crown — maybe eliminating the first hour free in the parking garages.

Artificial turf fields …. Storlie says there’s controversy around the types of material used for them.

Says current natural turf fields at Crown are very dfficult to maintain … and their poor condition limits available playing time.

Related story

Cost range on different materials varies by almost 4x factor. ($176K to $627K)

No conclusive research regarding crumb rubber, which some fear may be a cancer hazard.

Storlie says the more expensive material to start with will also cost more to maintain.

Biggs says scientific studies so far don’t support the idea that there is a cancer hazard, but the EPA is doing a more extensive study that is supposed to be completed this summer.

Northwestern and ETHS are using a crumb rubber product. The private Quad Sport facility on Oakton is using a different product.

Biggs says the field won’t be built until 2020, but city likely to need to make a decision sooner than that on what to use..

But can hold the decision for a while, Biggs says.

Hagerty says obviously not going to have kids playing on a field that the federal government says is unsafe.

Wilson suggests going with the “Nike Grind” product which costs about $359K

Revelle says California is doing a study that should have an interim report later this year, and a final report in 2019.

Storlie says don’t have to make a decision today.

SP 3 – 2018 Capital Improvement Program

Presentation.

Biggs says interest rates have been rising and are expected to continue to rise, so suggests city should issue its capital improvement project bonds for this year sooner rather than later.

Says some projects originally budgeted at $6.9 million now have been reduced in cost to $5.8 million.

But says for other projects planned for this year are about $1.2 million over budget and needs to make that much in cuts.

Braithwaite says doesn’t think made decision about alley funding projects.

Storlie says the motion last week, she thought, was to spend waste transfer money on waste transfer station area projects, like the alleys.

Fleming says she’d be OK cutting the public art funding and the animal shelter and viaduct painting.

Biggs says the viaduct is the one at Emerson/Ridge/Green Bay … which is estimated to cost $600K.

Wynne says the viaduct looks hideous now.

Says the survey benchmarks are important for everybody in the community — to get accurate survey because it can have legal consequences.

Says cutting the public art could be a possibility.

Asks about the Church Street harbor south pier.

Biggs says south pier wall is falling apart and lets sand come into the harbor.

Low bid came in at $900K … had only budgeted $600K.

Unfortunately thinks the $900K is realistic.

Wynne asks how many boats launch from the ramp. Asks whether have usage to justify the cost? Do we need the boat launch? Or should we charge more, Revelle adds.

Hemingway says boat launch brings in about $200K … and is also used for rescue boats, lakefront actiity and acquatics camp — its essential to lakefront operation.

Hemingway says with the wall rebuilt, the city could save some money on annual dredging costs.

Rainey says she favors taking care of the amenities at the lakefront — downgrading the wall is just nuts, she says. It’s like not doing a roof when the roof is leaking.

Mayor suggests cutting the viaduct painting ($600K+), the service center repair ($450K) and Lovelace Park tennis court ($275K).

Rainey suggests adding the animal shelter programming study ($50K) to the cut list, says doesn’t think that sort of work should be bonded for.

Direction to staff is to defer those four projects

Call of the Wards

Rainey … says feds awarded the city more CDBG money this year — something almost unheard of. Plan is to allocate an additional $15K to summer youth program … also other projects getting additional funding.

Announces 8th Ward meeting Thursday at 7p at Levy Center on violence in the ward. Says have had several shootings in the area past couple of months.

Several incidents involved buildings and cars getting shot up … and two incidents in which people were hit and wounded.

Fleming … Thursday 3-8 p.m. Civic Center Room G300 … priority based budgeting conversation … can fill out survey there.

Braithwaite … concerned that youth services programs are proposed for cuts … says those programs traditionally support people who are underserved in the community.

“We know we’re not going to get rid of the mayor’s summer youth program, or the youth and young adult program,” Braithwaite says. Don’t want community having anxiety about those programs.

Wilson says he generally agrees with what Braithwaite said. Says a lot of people don’t even know about some of the programs. Heard people talking about what their priorities are — which is is important for priority-based budgeting.

Meeting adjourned at 11:20 p.m.

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