'Be civil' ELHG leaders urge supporters

An aerial view of the mansion looking south toward the Grosse Point lighthouse. (ELHG photo)

In the wake of sharp criticism from some aldermen about personal attacks by supporters of preserving the Harley Clarke mansion, leaders of the group hoping to lease the mansion from the city urged their supporters this week to maintain a civil tone in their advocacy.

Leaders of Evanston Lakehouse & Gardens issued a statement saying:

"We would request that everyone – our supporters, City Council, and demolition advocates -- maintain a civil tone and refrain from making inflammatory or accusatory remarks regarding individuals, elected officials, or City staff.

"Evanston Lakehouse & Gardens does not condone, authorize or support any such inflammatory comments.

"While we recognize that many people are passionate about this issue, we request that everyone express their opinion in a respectful and responsible manner – whether that be in person, via email or on social media. To do otherwise does not help our community come to a solution for Harley Clarke."

During Monday's City Council meeting Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said "the name-calling, the attacks" by supporters of preserving the mansion "have been painful."

Fiske added that she has been disturbed by the amount of anger and misrepresentation over the mansion issue -- when "I get emails saying I'm taking bribes, or I'm corrupt."

She added that she's not confident the city could do an agreement with the Lakehouse group, given the amount of distrust they've engendered.

Alderman Tom Suffredin, 6th Ward, said he agreed with Fiske that the tone of the debate had been bad.

Suffredin proposed holding a referendum on the future of the mansion this November and the ELHG group leaders in their statement said a referendum "could be a viable option, if necessary."

The aldermen Monday voted 6-3 to begin discussions with Evanston Lighthouse Dunes, a group of residents who have offered to pay the cost of demolishing the mansion and restoring the dunes and gardens on the property.

They also directed the city manager to gather more information about what demolition and restoration would actually cost.

The aldermen also indicated that if plans for funding the demolition were approved, the project would be submitted for Preservation Commission review before the Council took a final vote on whether to actually start the demolition work.

The Lakehouse group leaders said they were disappointed by the Council's vote to consider demolition. They still hope to have their plan to lease the building for use as an environmental education center approved.

The sticking point on that has been doubts among the aldermen about whether ELHG can actually raise the several million dollars required to fulfill that vision for the property.

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