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.