After hearing an hour of public comment and a 45 minute report from a committee appointed by the mayor, Evanston aldermen Monday night voted to postpone further consideration of what to do with the lakefront Harley Clarke mansion until this fall.
With residents still sharply divided over the mansion’s future and the options narrowed only marginally by the committee’s report, the City Council accepted the report and decided to next discuss the mansion’s fate at a meeting Sept. 28.
Barbara Janes of the No Park Sale group points to a map of the mansion property.
During public comment fissures among groups that typically are allies became apparent.
Barbara Janes, organizer of a group opposed to selling any park land, said people believe keeping the property publicly owned is more important than preserving the building.
But Diane Williams, chair of the city’s Preservation Commission, said the building shouldn’t be demolished — and several preservationists have suggested that selling the building to a new owner who would preserve it would be preferable to demolition.
And Daniel Stein, head of the city’s Parks and Recreation Board, said that advisory group opposes a sale. “Buildings come and go, but parkland shouldn’t be sold,” Stein said.
Some immediate neighbors of the property argued for continued city ownership, while Joe Flanagan, CEO of the Evanston-based sales-outsourcing firm Acquirent, who just bought the first lakefront home north of the mansion, said the city’s first choice should be to turn the property over to a private developer under a long term lease.
“The city should prioritize funding schools and pensions,” Flanagan said, adding that redevelopment of the property for a boutique hotel or similar use “would be a great opportunity to put a property back on the tax rolls.”
And Ann McMann, who lives just south of the mansion at 5 Milburn Park, said that while she’d like to see the building remain public, she didn’t see where the money would come from for that. “For practical reasons,” she said, she favors having the property redeveloped as a boutique hotel.
While the largest number of people who responded to an online survey said they favored continued city ownership and operation of the building, a statistics professor at Northwestern University, Bruce Spencer, cautioned that such self-selected surveys are “fragile” and aren’t a referendum or representative of the views of the population as a whole.
A city staff analysis of the survey responses indicated that participants disproportionately came from areas along the lakefront and in north Evanston.