City officials say they hope to cut down on drug dealing and prostitution by changing parking rules on Sheridan Square in Evanston — but the changes may mean fewer parking spots available for people visiting South Boulevard Beach.
The city’s Transportation and Parking Committee voted Wednesday night to approve a six-month test of the restrictions after hearing complaints from residents that a diagonal parking area that faces lakefront riprap rocks north of the beach entrance has increasingly become a haven for illegal activities.
Daniel T. Coyne, a retired Chicago police officer whose condominium faces the parking area, said he regularly finds numerous soiled condoms and the small Ziploc bags used to sell narcotics and observes car-to-car drug dealing there.
“They can pull into the diagonal spaces and not be seen by cops and conduct their business even during the day when people are out barbequing in the park and children are playing,” Coyne said.
Alderman Melissa Wynne, whose 3rd Ward includes Sheridan Square, chairs the Transportation and Parking Committee, and supported the residents’ concerns.
“We need to get these changes in place as quickly as possible,” Wynne said. “We don’t have these activities elsewhere on the lakefront,” she added, saying the illegal activity was making the area “not safe for anybody at any time of day.”
All parking on Sheridan Square has been restricted to neighborhood residents from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. — but has been open to anyone at other times of the day.
Under the new rules developed by the city’s revenue and parking manager, Rickey Voss, the 45 diagonal parking spaces along the rocks will be limited to neighborhood residents 24 hours a day, while the 16 diagonal spaces near the beach entrance will be open to anyone, but with a three-hour parking limit.
That’s designed to be long enough for most people who come to visit the beach, Voss said.
Sheridan Square in an aerial view from the city website.
A three-hour limit would also apply to the west side of Sheridan Square opposite the beach, and to the east-west leg of the street — but neighborhood residents would be exempt from the time limit in those areas.
Amina DiMarco, a member of the city’s Parks and Recreation Board, objected to the plan, saying it would impact access to the beach and that maintaining accessibility is a paramount value.
She said the parks group should have been given an opportunity to work out a solution that would have less impact on beach and park access.
But Wynne said the plan was not attempting to limit access to the beach, but “to control this very, very serious situation where people are afraid to walk their dogs on that side of the street at night.”
Voss, a retired Evanston police officer, said the diagonal parking makes it difficult for police to see into cars to see what’s happening while they’re driving by on patrol.
He said prostitution and drug dealing had been a problem in the area even before he retired from the force in 2004 and that most of the people who police do arrest in that area are from out of town — indicating that it’s become a well-known location for such activity.
With the new restrictions, Voss said, police will have a reason to check illegally parked cars and determine whether more serious illegal activity is taking place.