Evanston’s Land Use Commission voted unanimously Wednesday night in favor of Northwestern University’s plan to build a new Ryan Field stadium.
But the panel voted 7-2 against the school’s request for a text amendment to permit up to six concerts at the stadium.
Commissioners Myrna Arevalo and John Hewko cast the votes in favor of the text amendment
Commission Chair Matt Rodgers suggested that the proposed text amendment went into too much detail. He proposed a different version that would have left those details to be worked out in a memorandum of understanding between the city and the university.
He suggested that would give the city much more flexibility in responding to any issues that might arise than having all the details baked into the zoning amendment’s text.
That proposal failed on a 6-3 vote.
Hewko said he wasn’t convinced by the university’s claims that the financial viability of the stadium project was dependent on having concerts.
“I don’t find it a credible argument,” he said, that the university, with a $2 billion operating budget, would need to walk away from the stadium project if it didn’t have concerts from which it hoped to generate $2 million to $3 million in revenue.
But, he said, it would be “a treat to have a world-class concert venue in Evanston.”
A site that Evanston residents could easily get to and that would bring people in from outside to spend money in Evanston, he said, “would be a very good thing.”
“On balance, I would favor concerts,” he added, “subject to some very strict conditions.”
But Commissioner George Halik said the impact of concerts “is a neighborhood issue” and that views of residents of the area around the stadium “are probably running 5-1 against the project.”
He claimed that the 3,000 people who signed a university-sponsored petition in favor of the project “is less than 5% of the population of Evanston — so that’s not significant.”
Besides, he asked, “Where do they live?”
Commissioner Max Puchtel said he believed neighbors’ concerns about noise had been overstated, but that there was so much detail missing from the plans for how traffic would be handled that he couldn’t vote for the proposal.
“It makes the most sense to proceed with caution,” Puchtel said, “Concerts could be perfectly fine, but they don’t have to happen right away, he added.
Arevalo said she’s a concert goer and that she doesn’t believe the noise would affect the neighbors as much as they think it will affect them.
“Music brings people together,” she added.
Commissioners Brian Johnson, Jeanne Lindwall, Kiril Mirintchev and Kristine Westerberg also voted against the concert plan.
The stadium plans now go to the City Council, which gets the final vote on both the replacement for the century-old stadium and whether there’ll be music concerts in the new venue.