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Tree dispute blocks development plans

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A dispute over a big old oak tree is threatening to turn into a court battle between Evanston and a developer.

Photo above: Smithfield Properties attorney Steve Friedland speaks to aldermen Monday night as Evanston city attorney Grant Farrar looks on.

The owner of the former Kendall College property wants the site subdivided into 19 single family lots, which is permitted under the R-1 zoning for the block.

And the developer has agreed to turn over to the city the right-of-way for alleys through the property and pay for paving them.

But a neighbor has complained that an oak tree estimated to be about 200 years old lies in the path of one of the alleys.

The 200-year-old, 51-inch oak tree that's the center of the dispute is in the center of this map.

For a while it appeared a compromise had been reached — with the city suggesting creating a dead end alley that would let the tree remain.

But then the city insisted that the developer give the city title to the land that the alley wouldn't be built on, while the developer said it should become part of the adjoining private lots.

The city has the right to demand that developers provide alleys in return for its agreement to permit subdivision of land — but the developer contends it doesn't have the right to take property just to preserve a tree.

And the developer is now threatening to file suit over the issue if it isn't resolved soon.

A Google Maps aerial photo of the block of Lincoln street affected by the dispute.

That led the City Council this week to postpone action on the subdivision plan yet again, in hopes the attorneys can come up with a compromise before the council's next regular meeting on March 28.

The tree controversy is just the latest installment in a half-decade long battle over redeveloping the full-block former site of the college known for its culinary industry training programs.

The developer originally proposed a high-density townhome project, but after years of battles with neighbors agreed to a planned development of single family homes.

At that point the real estate market tanked and the planned development concept was scrapped.

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