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Residents Sue City Over Northwestern Parking Garage

Three Evanston residents hope to halt construction of a seven-story visitor center and parking garage planned for the lakefront at the south end of the Northwestern University campus.

Three Evanston residents recently filed suit against the city, in an attempt to block construction of a controversial seven-story parking garage and visitor center at the southeast corner of the Northwestern University campus.  

In the suit filed in Cook County Circuit Court Friday, Matthew Mirapaul, Ann Jennett and Mitchell Harrison argue that the proposed building at 1841 Sheridan Rd. does not meet city zoning standards and that the city council was wrong to approve its construction so close to the lake and city beaches. 

They argue that the building will ruin the lakefront views that residents currently enjoy from Clark Street Beach and destroy a stretch of natural land filled with trees and wildlife. The lawsuit requests that a judge order the city to rescind its approval of the building’s construction. 

“We are doing this for Evanston,” Mirapaul told Patch. “Evanston’s primary natural feature is our beautiful lakefront, and this structure with the parking garage as proposed doesn’t belong there.”

City spokesperson Eric Palmer confirmed that the city was named in the suit, but said he could not comment on pending litigation. 

While most aldermen supported the building’s construction, members of the city preservation commission uniformly opposed the plans. Because the building will be located on a lot of record containing landmark buildings, Northwestern was required to obtain a certificate of appropriateness from the preservation commission before proceeding with construction. 

After three meetings between August and October, members of the preservation commission voted unanimously to deny the university’s request. They said the modern steel and glass building would clash with homes in the lakefront historic district as well as nearby Fisk Hall, which was designed by the noted architect Daniel Burnham. 

But at a meeting in late October, council members voted 6-2 to repeal the preservation commission’s ruling and grant Northwestern University a certificate of appropriateness.

“We were shocked…when the city council overturned the preservation commission’s thoughtful and unanimous decision,” Mirapaul said. 

He and several other people spoke out against the building at another city council meeting two weeks later, when aldermen considered the terms of an agreement to lease lakefront property to Northwestern as a fire lane for the new building. 

“I’m saddened at the prospect that the city council is willing to sell out Lake Michigan,” said resident Lois Samuels. “Do you really want to be the city council that sold Lake Michigan in exchange for a parking structure?” 

At that meeting, aldermen voted to move forward with an agreement proposed by Ald. Jane Grover (7th ward), who suggested that Northwestern should shoulder the cost of constructing the path and pay the city a yearly stipend to maintain it. In return, Northwestern officials promised they would continue the lakefront bike path along the edge of the building.

Mirapaul and other residents who spoke out against the building were dismayed at the council’s decision, which appeared to clear the final hurdle to construction for Northwestern.

“We had hoped our concerns would be heard, and they were not,” he said. “So we felt we had no choice and that the residents of Evanston needed to take action.”

The lawsuit argues that the city council “acted arbitrarily, capriciously and contrary to the city code” when it reversed the preservation commission’s denial of a certificate of appropriateness. It also argues that the building, as proposed, violates city setback requirements. According to the suit, the setback requirement at the property is 27 feet, but the building is to be constructed just 10 feet from the street.

“Any one who drives north on Sheridan Road, anyone who drives south on Sheridan Road, anyone who visits Clark Street beach will be shocked by the scale of this parking garage and how it will alter the character of the lakefront,” Mirapaul said. 

Northwestern University has said it plans to demolish part of the existing two-story parking garage at the south end of campus and replace it with a green space sloping down to the lake. Officials expect construction on the new visitor center and parking garage to begin this summer and last until early 2014. 

Nancy Traver January 24, 2013 at 09:05 PM
If you want to see what this parking garage will look like, go to: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Parks-Not-Parking/471519049571663 Please note that the Evanston Preservation Commission voted unanimously not to approve this project. Also, the Lakefront Master Plan did not call for a parking garage at the lakefront. After 18 months of discussion, the residents and city employees who participated in drawing up the plan said: "The clear consensus among the community was a preference for the current approach, which distributes the parking rather evenly along the en- tire length of the lakefront. This approach has several advantages, including dis- tribution of parking demand and associated vehicular circulation and convenient parking access to nearly all parts of the lakefront." The plan also says there should be "access to alternative transportation: public transportation, bicycle parking and no additional vehicular parking." All of this begs the question: Why have a plan if you're not going to follow it? Why waste precious public and city employee time drawing up a plan that will not be honored? Why bother to have a plan for valued public parkland if development will only degrade it? Why have a preservation committee when you're not willing to vote to preserve? In fact, why have any committee report to the council if you're not willing to accept the committee's advice, particularly when it is unanimous?
Kiera Madden January 26, 2013 at 03:39 AM
Thank you, Matthew Mirapaul, Ann Jannett and Mitchell Harrison. Please advise residents how we can put our voices to this and what else we can do. Why on Earth would the Evanston City Council sell out their own community and precious lakefront resource for a parking lot (of all things?) Per the previous comment, the City Council has disregarded the will of the community and the Preservation Council. Let Northwestern cut down its own trees and use one of it's picturesque parts of campus for a parking lot.
Kiera Madden January 26, 2013 at 03:40 AM
its
millie January 26, 2013 at 03:58 AM
How can you question this. This is the same City Council that gives away thousands of dollars of taxpayers money to finance bars. Restaurants' that are failing, pays for inspections that are either sellers or buyers expense when a property changes hands Perhaps just walk in door and tell council you need lunch money and they will offer to take you and whom ever you want to bring.
millie January 26, 2013 at 04:00 AM
they think nothing about raising taxes and then sit and wonder why we have foreclosures.

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