Letter to the editor: City must end attempts to take public trust land for private gain

The second Special Order of Business on the City Council’s agenda for Monday, September 12, 2022 is SP2, Resolution 80-R-22, recording the City of Evanston’s objection to a right of way through property ownership of Greater Chicago’s Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and leased by the City of Evanston. Cutting off the long title, this is a resolution, put forward by councilor Eleanor Revelle (Wing 7), for the city to say “no” to a builder’s request to pave a road, longer than a football field, on Isabella Street. in front of what is now the 10th-hole fairway and green of the Canal Shores golf course, in order to build five houses on what is now a wooded space in Wilmette.

The proposed road is yet another iteration of attempts the developer has been making for several years, all of which have been strongly opposed by neighboring and environmental groups and turned down by one or more government agencies, including the city of Evanston in 2017. The land in question on which the developer wants to build was once part of a larger lot that extends north into Wilmette. Houses were built in the northern section in the past, cutting through the northern section, limiting road access from Wilmette. The fact that the southern section is now landlocked is a result of the real estate speculators’ own decisions.

A plan to develop without taking public land could have been carried out through forecasting or purchasing private property. Instead, the developer in effect wants the public to subsidize, through the sacrifice of public green and recreational space, the developer’s ability to maximize the number of units built.

Arguably, no development should take place on the remaining land. Groups such as the Isabella Woods Facebook Group, Citizens’ Greener Evanston and the Cook County chapter of the Audubon Society have cited environmental concerns and impact on neighboring properties. Even without these legitimate issues, however, easement and road would be bad public policy. There is certainly no good reason for Evanston for Evanston to help pave public land in Evanston in order to facilitate a private development deal in Wilmette. The addition of hypothetical playground equipment or the debatable characterization of the development as “affordable” (which would facilitate large private tax cuts) should not mislead anyone into misunderstanding the essential nature of this transaction.

The board of the Central Street Neighbors Association opposed the latest version of this proposal and is opposing it now. The CSNA agrees with the officials’ recommendation to pass Resolution 80-R-22 and urges the city and Mayor Biss to try to end these attempts to seize public trust land for private gain.

Jeff Smith
Central Street Neighbors Association

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