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home : opinion : opinion/editorial April 30, 2016

7/31/2013 1:31:00 PM
Editorial: Seeking Détente in the Battle of the Harley Clarke Mansion

It will be no surprise to readers of this paper that we applaud the July 22 decision of the City Council to reject the proposal from James Pritzker’s Taiwani Enterprises to develop the Harley Clarke mansion with a 57-room boutique hotel.

We do not believe the City should sell lakefront property or other parkland, and we believe access to the lakefront should not be compromised any further.

The City has promised open discussions about the next steps in addressing the future of the mansion.

Several concepts will doubtless be involved in these discussions, and we hope that Council and community will consider each one discretely before they become entangled in a “model” proposal.

Two things, we think, are of primary importance: that no park or public land be sold and that 2603 Sheridan Road retain its open-space (OS) zoning.

Several ideas have already been suggested and, while many of them may seem appealing, we think it is incumbent upon all of us to have the long vision here, scrutinizing proposals not just for what they could bring to the present day but also what benefits they will bring to future generations.

Deliberations should be guided by the Lakefront Master Plan, adopted by City Council in 2008. The plan is available on the City’s website,

A public use of the building that includes rental of the building for private functions such as weddings would be ideal.

 Even though the mansion was “saved” from the proposed hotel, many residents are on edge and say they do not believe the drive to privatize the building and sell the parkland is over.

Part of that blame lies with the City. Taiwani’s response to the City’s request for proposals was said to be the only “responsive” one, yet it was for a 57-room hotel. Further, discussions of the proposal continued in two closed-session discussions that appear to have violated the Illinois Open Meetings Act. Finally, when the RoundTable requested the minutes and the audio tapes of those meetings, we were told that the audio tapes had been “inadvertently destroyed.”

These errors are compounded by the fact that on previous occasions the City has put other City assets on the table for selling: the Chandler-Newberger Center, the Ecology Center, the North Branch Library and the City’s lease on the golf course. While those measures did not come to fruition, one can see why much of the public is skittish when it comes to the future of the mansion.

The City has to re-earn the trust of its residents, and this could be a slow process. Transparency and openness in government means a lot more than putting on the website notifications or press releases about what has already been done.

We believe it is up to the City to make the first moves, and City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz has said it is his “intention to open up a process by which the City of Evanston can directly engage its residents so they can share with us creative ideas for the adaptive reuse of this iconic lakefront property that would keep intact the surrounding park area.”

 That is a start, and we hope residents will accept this overture and others in good faith. 

Yes, it may be a slow process, but even the snail will climb Mount Fuji.

If residents and City officials – whether elected or appointed – cannot get past their anger and mistrust, the Battle of the Clarke Mansion will continue, fruitlessly, to be fought.

Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Article comment by: Mary Rosinski

This thoughtful editorial applies to the entire governing process in Evanston. Trust and integrity of process are essential for a healthy community, and transparency is providing all the information within legal limits to everyone, not just a little or only to a select number of people.
Sometimes it baffles me that officials are surprised or wonder why that the public comes to council meetings angry. I would venture to say that the majority of the time it is because by the time the stakeholders are brought to the table, important decisions and directions have already begun and we feel blocked out of or manipulated by the process.
For example, last night an agenda item at council concerned school safety zones Residents from the community most directly affected by the proposed ordinance, were at the council, and clearly outraged that the process had gotten as far as it did without them even knowing about it until the last moment.

A few alderpeople have monthly meetings where they communicate face to face with the people they represent. Maybe if every ward had monthly meetings on the same day of the month, resident would be able to count on a day and time which they could talk with our elected officials, and alderpeople could give residents the heads up on important issues before council, or in discussion in various committees. Yes residents can check on the COE website for meeting times and agendas but we donít know the issues. The we elect our representatives because we want to trust that they will try to connect with us when issues of public lands/assets and rights are on the table and find out what our thoughts are.
I hope that the process to find a productive public use for the Light House Landing and Harley Clarke Property is a social/political success.

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