Four Evanston residents debated the future of the Harley Clarke mansion Sunday at a sparsely attended referendum forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters.

Craig McClure, an activist on property tax issues who two years ago successfully petitioned for his northwest Evanston neighborhood to be removed from the Skokie Park District, said Evanston’s tax burden is high and getting higher.

Craig McClure.

With two house museums in the city already — the Charles Gates Dawes house and the Frances Willard house — the city doesn’t need another one, McClure argued.

Noting that mansion preservation advocates are pushing to turn it into a center for ecology studies, he said the city doesn’t need a second ecology center.

Central Street Neighbors Association board member Trish Stieglitz claimed the effort to save the mansion has wide support and said the city’s representatives in the state legislature and congress are “aligning resources to spare the building from demolition.”

She decried what she said was a rush by the city toward demolition of the mansion.

Brad White.

Brad White, a former chair of Landmarks Illinois, said a “significant public asset” like the mansion should have been taken care of years ago and claimed that advocates of demolition “have no idea” what the actual cost of demolition would be.

Amina DiMarco, a former member of the city’s Parks and Recreation Board, said the advisory referendum language is misleading — that if the mansion could be preserved “at minimal or no cost to Evanston taxpayers” as the referendum wording urges, it already would have been done.

Only a few dozen people turned out for the forum at the 1,400 seat Evanston Township High School auditorium, which also featured a discussion of the binding Real Estate Transfer Tax increase on November’s ballot.

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City documents related to the mansion

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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