Three residents have filed a civil lawsuit against the City of Evanston to stop Northwestern University’s construction of a seven-story parking garage and visitor's center that they say will loom over one of community’s most popular beaches.
"We felt we had no other recourse," one of the plaintiffs, Matthew Mirapaul, said this afternoon. "We're doing this for Evanston."
In a lawsuit filed Friday in Cook County Circuit Court, Mirapaul and Evanston residents Ann Jennett and Mitchell Harrison asked the court to order Evanston to rescind its approval for Northwestern University to build a $32 million visitor center and 435-space parking garage on the southeast corner of the NU campus, adjacent to Evanston's popular Clark Street Beach.
The Evanston Preservation Commission in the fall voted against allowing the project to proceed as proposed. But in November the Evanston City Council overruled the commission and gave Northwestern the permission it needed move ahead on its ambitious lakefront construction plans.
"The city council gave residents an opportunity to have some input and there was strong opposition to this," said Mirapaul. "Everyone who learns about this is shocked by the size and scale of the project and yet the city council voted to allow it to proceed."
Evanston spokesman Eric Palmer said the city does not comment on pending litigation. Northwestern University representatives could not be reached for comment.
The construction project is the latest in a long history of town-versus-gown conflicts between the city of Evanston and the university. The location of the proposed garage and visitors center has raised the ire of some Evanstonians because the building would abut Clark Street Beach and result in the loss of a stand of trees on city owned land that some residents and local officials say has ecological value as a wildlife and bird sanctuary. They also argue that the garage will loom over the beach and is totally out of character with the natural setting of the Evanston lakefront.
But when Northwestern University officials unveiled plans for the garage and visitors center last year, they likened the lakefront building to a new "front door" to the university that, with its stunning lake and skyline views, would be a showpiece for prospective students. It's part of a larger effort to transform the southern end of campus that includes a new five-story music and communications building and a sailing center.
The nine-page lawsuit states that the City Council acted "arbitrarily and capriciously" in overturning the Preservation Commission's decision to deny a "Certificate of Appropriateness" for the parking garage. It also states that the structure violates the city's zoning ordinance and is contrary to the "Lakefront Master Plan" adopted by the 2008 city council.
"I just want to remind everyone, including the City Council, that everyone in Evanston, including the city council in 2008, enacted a plan whose first goal was to preserve the natural character of the lakefront," Mirapaul said. "The project as proposed does not do that, I'm sad to say."