Toilet fight erupts on lakefront

About a dozen lakefront residents objected Wednesday to plans for a new restroom facility at Evanston’s Clark Street beach.

About a dozen lakefront residents objected Wednesday to plans for a new restroom facility at Evanston’s Clark Street beach.

The group peppered Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, with questions about the $1.2 million project.

The project would replace the existing half-century-old restroom building with a new handicap-accessible one nearly twice the size. The new building would be constructed at the entrance to the beach so it can have two sets of restrooms — one facing the beach, the other facing the park.

It would also provide an enclosed space for selling beach tokens, a small office for lifeguards on break, a store room and a concession stand to replace the concession truck that now parks at the beach each summer.

The plan also calls for closing the lakefront park entrance drive at Church Street and creating a new drive from Clark Street which would provide a drop-off point and turnaround in front of the restroom building and a new access route for boaters to the launch ramp parking area.

Wynne, who called the Civic Center meeting after requesting that a vote on the project be postponed at last week’s City Council meeting, said the project was developed as part of a nearly year-long lakefront planning process that involved numerous meetings with residents.

But people at Wednesday’s meeting insisted their views about the plans had been ignored.

Katie Stallcup of 144 Greenwood St. said “You’re creating a public traffic space, you’re going to make this spot a hub, just like an airport, with all the traffic coming in you’ll get more cars into the park, more bicycles, more activity and will eliminate green space.”

Beth Steffen of 418 Dempster St. said, “There’ll be a wall of SUVs waiting to drop off. I see it as a disaster.”

Stallcup also objected to the contemporary design of the new building, saying she’d prefer a traditional design — like those of the lagoon building in Dawes Park or the beach office at Dempster Street.

Wynne said the lakefront plan meets goals expressed by neighbors to keep commercial development along the lake to an absolute minimum. The new concession stand will sell no more than what the current truck does, she said.

And she argued that the city is at risk of lawsuits now because its beach facilities are not accessible to the handicapped.

Unlike the current restroom building, which is not winterized, the new building would be equipped with a heating system and could be kept open year-round if the city chose to absorb the extra utility costs.

The neighbors drew support from the new alderman of the 1st Ward, Judy Fiske, who said she doesn’t like the building design or the entrance driveway, but does favor the concept of an expanded restroom accessible from both the beach and the park.

But another new alderman, Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said the city for years neglected its parks and he views the plan as a fair compromise.

“I’m a runner and a bicyclist,” Wilson said, “and I live on Main Street, a long way from the lake. Bathroom access at the lake would be a desirable thing to have.”

Wilson, who said he’s had personal experience with being hit by cars while cycling and running, added that he believes the plan would help reduce such accidents.

He said he’s been talking about the plan to “people living on the other side of Ridge or Asbury, and a lot of them like it.”

The council is scheduled to vote on awarding a contract for the project Monday night.

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