A last-minute dust up over plans to renovate the fog houses at the Grosse Point lighthouse complex failed to derail adoption of the City of Evanston’s 2017 budget this week.

Barbara Janes of the No Park Sale activist group urged aldermen Monday night not to renovate the fog houses in 2017 and instead spend the $400,000 budgeted for that project to make repairs to the nearby Harley Clarke mansion so it could become the site for the summer recreation classes traditionally held in the fog houses.

Janes also claimed that without additional funds for mold abatement, the fog house project “would be a waste of taxpayer money.”

Alderman Brian Miller, 9th Ward, said spending money on the fog houses would set the city on a path that he wasn’t comfortable with. Miller proposed removing funds for the fog houses and for Harley Clarke from the budget.

The two fog house buildings at the lighthouse.

Alderman Eleanor Revelle, whose 7th Ward includes the lighthouse area, said a committee working to develop a long-term plan for the area had concluded that it made more sense to move forward with the fog house improvements this year.

The cost for immediate upgrades to the mansion to make it usable for the summer recreation programs turned out to be more than double initial estimates, Revelle said, and those changes could limit future uses of the mansion, so the committee decided to recommend doing the fog house improvements next year instead.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said the improvements to the fog houses were already in the city’s capital improvement plan for 2018, and the need to make roof repairs and other improvements is now more critical, and needs to be done in 2017.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, agreed that on the need for immediate work on the fog houses, and Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said she would hate to see them not used next summer — because that would mean the ecology-related programs conducted there couldn’t be held at all.

A motion by Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, to divert $250,000 that had been allocated for improvements to the mansion to the fog house project failed on a 6-3 vote.

And, with that, the aldermen voted unanimously to adopt the city’s 2017 budget, which, net of interfund transfers, totals $242 million.

To fund the budget, they also adopted a 2.38 percent increase in the city’s total property tax levy and a 3.8 percent increase in taxes for the library.

The budget has been under review since early October. It’s generated far less controversy this year than budgets did in the recent past when the city was faced with severe funding shortfalls and staff layoffs.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Fog house?

    I learn new things about this city everyday. Imagine my surprise at finding that the city has something called a fog house. Not one, but two, and that they will need $400,000.00 in upkeep. I was also surprised to see just how ramshackle they looked. It would seem that for half that money we could build brand new fog houses. But almost 40 years of living in this city has taught me that things are never the way they look. I will have to do my research to find out what these buildings are, and why we are spending so much  taxpayer money to keep them upright.

  2. What were the fog houses?

    i like the summer camp uses of the fog houses; but what were they originally? never heard the term before. Mary Brugliera

    1. Where large fog horns were housed


      At least on the Great Lakes, fog houses generally were located near light houses and housed large fog horns to warn shipping during periods of fog or other bad weather. A compliment to the lighthouse when the light might be obscured.

      I am not sure what use the city has put them to over the years, other then what is referred to above.

  3. Will it never end?

    The Council never seems to find an end to wasting taxpayer money on items some special interest group wants—even if the project is a money pit and should have been done away with decades ago.

    Yet they can't bring them self to sell items like the Mansion to someone who actually understands business and economics and can turn an eye-sore into something useful—and that would provide badly needed tax revenue.

    No they want to waste money [not their own].

    Unless a candidate comes along who understands budget, taxes, business and finance, voters should vote "None of the Above" in city elections.

  4. Lighthouse Park District
    Bill…Was there any discussion on the LPD budgeting or levying their tax district to pay for these improvements? I believe the Fog Houses are part of the LPD. However, the Fog Houses may only be used by the city’s Park and Rec Dept for the Ecology Center for summer programing. Just curious and thanks in advance.

    1. Lighthouse Park District

      Hi Amina,

      No discussion by aldermen of that.

      My understanding is that the property containing the lighthouse and the fog houses was turned over by the federal government to the city, and the lighthouse was then leased by the city to the Lighthouse Park District.

      Whether the fog houses were included in that lease is not clear from what I could find online this morning.

      But city documents prepared over the past several years seem to assume that it's the city's responsibility to finance any improvements it chooses to make to the fog houses.

      — Bill

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