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The long road to demolition for Harley Clarke

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Evanston aldermen are scheduled to vote Monday on a resolution that would authorize the city manager to negotiate with Evanston Lighthouse Dunes, a group that’s offered to cover the cost of demolishing the lakefront Harley Clarke mansion.

The purpose of the talks would be to better understand the terms and conditions of their offer.

A group with a competing vision for the property, Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens, says Monday’s vote, if approved, would put the mansion “on a fast track” to demolition.

But, as described in a memo from city staff, it appears that Monday’s vote would be only the initial step in a long slog toward demolition that could drag on for many months or even years.

Here are some of the key additional steps, as presented in the memo:

  1. The city manager returns from talks with the dunes group with details of what they’re willing to spend and what demolition and restoration of the property is actually likely to cost.
  2. If the aldermen like the proposal, they vote to direct the city manager to seek a certificate of appropriateness from the city’s Preservation Commission for the demolition project.
  3. The Preservation Commission votes within 45 days on whether to approve the certificate of appropriateness.
  4. Assuming the commission votes against demolition, the city then has 30 days to appeal the denial to the City Council.
  5. Assuming the City Council overturns the Preservation Commission recommendation, demolition opponents could then appeal the City Council’s decision to the Circuit Court of Cook County, a process that could potentially delay further action for months or years.
  6. If the court sides with the demolition opponents, the city may apply under the preservation ordinance for a “certificate of special merit” or a “certificate of economic hardship.”
  7. The City Council itself would review the “certificate of special merit” request. A “certificate of economic hardship” would first be reviewed by the Preservation Commission and then by the City Council.

Once those steps were completed, the city would still need to seek bids from contractors to do the work, and the City Council would need to approve the demolition and restoration contracts.

One alderman has already suggested adding another step to the process — holding a referendum on whether the mansion should be demolished. The earliest that question could be put to voters would be this November.

The future of the Harley Clarke mansion has already been under debate for the better part of a decade.

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