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NU seeks to free much of campus from ‘historical’ review

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Northwestern University is seeking to resubdivide its campus east of Sheridan Road to limit the area where construction work is subject to review by Evanston's Preservation Commission.

In a plan to be introduced at Tuesday's commission meeting, the university seeks to resubdivide the property — which now for the most part consists of two huge lots — one generally following the original outline of the Lake Michigan shoreline, the other including land added for the school's lakefill campus.

The resubdivision would consolidate the two existing lots into one, but then carve out five new lots containing all of the dozen Evanston landmark buildings on the campus.

Those new lots with landmark buildings would continue to be subject to Preservation Commission oversight, while the rest of the main campus area would be exempt.

Several recent construction projects on campus have become ensnared in controversy with the Preservation Commission objecting to their supposed negative impact on nearby landmark buildings.

For example, the commission in October 2012 voted unanimously to deny the required certificate of appropriateness for the school's visitor center on Sheridan Road, across Campus Drive from the landmark Fisk Hall. But the City Council overrode the commission and approved the plans the following month, and the finished building has won praise from the Chicago Tribune's architecture critic.

In requesting the change, NU officials say it would permit the commission to focus its review on projects related to historic buildings. "As a result, administrative burdens on the city would be reduced, the approval process for the university would be streamlined, the possibility of controversy on renovation of non-landmarked buildings would be avoided and structurs designated as landmarks would be preserved and respected."

The university notes in its proposal that it has received more than a dozen awards from the Preservation Commission for its renovation projects over the past four years.

Over the past two years construction on campus has amounted to two thirds of all commercial construction activity in the city and has generated millions in building permit fee revenue for Evanston.

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