Evanston residents at Tuesday night’s 1st Ward meeting were blunt in their opposition to the possibility of Northwestern University fraternities, sororities, or dormitories moving into the soon-to-be vacant Roycemore School building.
The Roycemore School, a private pre-kindergarten through 12th Grade school located at 640 Lincoln St., will move to a new building at 1200 Davis St., likely sometime later this year, after a 96-year stay at its current location. In 2008, Northwestern University, which owns the land on which Roycemore currently sits, decided not to renew Roycemore’s 99-year lease, eying the 68,000 square-foot building as ideal for potential future expansion.
Such expansion is what worries nearby residents, though, who fear that a University building could disrupt the neighborhood’s character.
The land on which Roycemore sits is zoned as U-1, allowing the potential for classrooms, single family homes, administration or faculty offices, dormitories, or sorority and fraternity buildings. Roycemore’s main building is considered an Evanston landmark, meaning the building’s exterior cannot be altered without approval from the City of Evanston’s preservation commission. However, a small house on the property could be altered or demolished without City approval.
Several Evanston residents attending Tuesday’s meeting spoke against any reassignment that would turn the building into any form of student housing.
Barbara Janes, an Evanstonian who has lived near Roycemore for more than 37 years, said that she worried about the increase in noise that student housing might cause.
“As a neighbor who can hear the music and the noise from campus, I would be very unhappy if that were a dorm, fraternities, sororities,” Janes said. “Students seem to party from Wednesday to Saturday….Offices? Yeah I could live with a faculty club. But something that is not going to have a 24-hour presence in the neighborhood that’s going to bring all sorts of traffic and noise.”
Travivan Spalding, who lives across the street from the Roycemore building, said that she already experiences some of the negative effects of living near University housing.
“Wednesday to Sunday night, I get all the traffic between 12 [a.m.] and 4 [a.m.] at night, and they throw beer cans into my yard,” Spalding said. “I have to do a lot of cleaning up by myself. And they vandalize my property many times…so I feel that it would be very good if it could be an administrative office.”
Ron Nayler, associate vice president of facilities management at Northwestern University, said that while there is no firm timeline for deciding the building’s use, Northwestern is considering all options.
“I’ve noted that the University has needs in all of those areas,” Nayler said. “We’re weighing the option that we have to redevelop the properties. More fraternities, more sororities, more classrooms, more residence halls, more offices on that site…But at this point in time we haven’t made a decision.”
Nayler remained tightlipped about any University preferences or leanings, and while Ald. Judy Fiske (1st Ward) said she was dedicated to persevering the “delicate” personality of the neighborhood, she said that Northwestern had no mandate to communicate its plans.
Fiske said that for near half a year the City has engaged in talks with Northwestern at the NU-City Committee meetings to discuss proposed changes to University-owned properties west of Sheridan Road, and have “gotten [NU officials] to talk a little bit more.”
Regardless of the eventual fate of the Roycemore building, Fiske said whatever choice is made would likely affect the development and sale of the adjacent, empty, Smithfield Properties-owned lot where Kendall College once sat.
The long-vacant plot, which was recently divided into 19 single-family lots priced at $500,000 apiece, has yet to attract serious interest from developers. Fiske said a change to the neighborhood might alter the decisions of potential buyers.
While Smithfield has recently been in talks with builder Cambridge Homes, Fiske said that she was unimpressed with the tract housing Cambridge suggested for the area. She also said that private buyers had expressed interest in purchasing one or two of the lots.
The next NU-City Committee meeting is scheduled for June 15 at the Aldermanic Library of the Loraine H. Morton Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave.