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No decision on dining hall dispute

Evanston’s Zoning Board of Appeals spent four hours hearing testimony Tuesday night in a challenge by neighbors to Northwestern University’s use of the Great Room, a dining hall in a former Seabury-Western Seminary building.

Evanston’s Zoning Board of Appeals spent four hours hearing testimony Tuesday night in a challenge by neighbors to Northwestern University’s use of the Great Room, a dining hall in a former Seabury-Western Seminary building.

The neighbors claim that the city’s zoning administrator erred in concluding that the NU operation at 600 Haven Street was a continuation of Seabury’s use of the space permitted under the city’s zoning ordinance as a non-conforming use.

But as the hour neared midnight, the parties still weren’t through presenting witnesses, and so the ZBA continued the hearing until its Tuesday, Feb. 9, meeting.

Former 1st Ward alderman Art Newman, representing George Gaines of 2207 Orrington Ave., quizzed Zoning Administrator Bill Dunkley at length about the process used to reach his decision that the use was legal.

The questionning went on so long that at one point board member Michael Sutton asked if Newman was dragging out the testimony because he was getting paid by the hour, to which Newman replied that he was representing the neighbors as a volunteer.

Sutton said Newman was "making a lot of statements that are not backed up by any type of quantifiable facts." If the appellants were going to claim the university had intensified the use of the space compared to Seabury’s operation, Sutton said, "Why don’t you show me there’s an intensity of use?"

Acting ZBA Chair Lori Summers said, "We’re not here to evaluate Dunkley or what he did or didn’t do. We’re simply reviewing the facts in relationship to whether the decision was an accurate decision in terms of the zoning ordinance."

Priya Harjani, associate general counsel for the university, said the neighbors don’t like the fact that the university is continuing the use of the dining facility in a residential neighborhood, but that the university "is simply continuing a use that’s been there for over 80 years."

She said the university does not operate the building like a restaurant, that it’s not open to the public and is meant for students, staff and faculty.

She said the dining hall is not open on Friday or Saturday and is only open from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. and is closed during the summer and school breaks.

She said under Seabury’s ownership the hall had a total seating capacity of 120, which Northwestern has reduced to 78, and that Seabury served three meals a day there and the space was open 24 hours a day for students to use.

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