Evanston aldermen retreated again Monday night from a plan for the future of the Harley Clarke mansion.
After listening to an hour-and-a-quarter of public comment, including threats from a representative of a prominent law firm to overturn a demolition decision in court, the aldermen voted 9-0 to drop the demolition idea, by rejecting a motion to accept for hearing an appeal of the Preservation Commission vote to deny a certificate of appropriateness for the demolition.
The council has, over several years, also:
- Sought to sell the mansion for commercial redevelopment, but rejected the only offer submitted on a 6-3 vote.
- Seen a proposal to turn the building into an office for a state agency fall apart with a change of administrations in Springfield.
- Sought to find a non-profit user for the building, but rejected the only proposal it received 7-2 over doubts about the group's fundraising ability.
As Mayor Steve Hagerty said after the latest vote, "I don't think you'll find anyone in the city who isn't dissatisfied with Harley Clarke."
During public comment speakers saying they represented a new group called Friends of Harley Clarke claimed to have raised $300,000 in pledges to preserve the building.
City Attorney Michelle Masoncup said Monday's vote means the city will be returning the $400,000 in cash raised by residents who wished to have their money used to demolish the building.
While Assistant City Manager Erika Storlie said the controversy over the mansion has led prospective new users to approach the city with numerous ideas for its reuse, there was no indication Monday that any of those proposals could win final majority approval by the aldermen -- given competing worries about commercializing the lakefront while also not having the property become a burden on the city's budget.