5th Ward Residents Say They Were “Blindsided” in City’s Conversion of Promised Park Space into Municipal Utility Facility

West End residents in Evanston’s 5th Ward are organizing to delay construction of a 3620-sq. foot water pumping station and connecting pipes at 2525 Church St., which is scheduled to begin in early March and to be completed by August 2019, according to the Morton Grove Niles Water Commission. The opposition group, called the West End Pumping Station Impact Committee, said they want the City to halt construction at least long enough to allow for an environmental impact study and report, and to give the affected community proper notice and addressment of their input and concerns.

Residents in the group said they felt they had been deceived when less than a month after the City agreed to lease the property for green space restoration and recreational uses, it instead granted a Municipal Use Exemption to allow for the otherwise unpermitted pumping station to be used to sell drinking water to Morton Grove and Niles.

 

Whirlwind About-Face for Park Space

The City had budgeted $400,000 through 2018 Capital Improvement Program funding to demolish the now vacant Shore School property at 2525 Church St and expand the adjacent Beck Park from Lyons Street south to Church St.

 

2525 Church St. plans proposed to City Council January 8, 2018. The facility site is referenced here as “New Spray Feature”
On January 8, 2018, the City signed a long-term lease to revitalize the 2525 Church St. property, owned by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, to preserve and restore green space and recreational use. As part of the agreement with MWRD, the City agreed that it would use the premises “exclusively for public recreational purposes or other public purposes,” and that it would not permit acts that could cause a public or private nuisance.

 

Former 5th Ward Ald. Delores Holmes said she was pleased to see the land finally being used in the community, according to the Chicago Tribune original reporting.

Fifth Ward Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, who supported the both the lease and municipal exemption resolutions, and who also sits on the Administration & Public Works Committee that recommended the lease, assured residents that the site was intended as a community project and that it would not move forward until she had transparent and public discussions and input from residents most impacted.

 

Applicability for Municipal Use Exemption

Open Space zoned district sited as location for water pumping station facility

The restoration plans for the Church St. property, which sits within a designated Open Space zoning district, included extended bike paths, a soccer field and splash park feature, but did not include reference to the pumping station. So residents said they were surprised to find out that on February 7, the Design & Project Review (DAPR) Committee members moved to recommend the City grant a Municipal Use Exemption to allow construction of the facility on the newly leased property.

As Open Space districts restrict permitted uses to gardens, parks and other public community purposes, the DAPR sought the Council’s exemption that allows for noncompliant structures that are “necessary for the provision of desired City services.”

Area residents contend that the facility is not applicable for the exemption as the water service provided is not for the City, but rather for neighboring municipalities.

 

Lack of Community Notice and Input

Residents said their primary grievance is that they did not receive public notice of the quick turnaround in planned use and construction that would have allowed reasonable time for them to provide input. Unlike residents of Morton Grove, Niles and Skokie, who received notification through direct mailings and an invitation to a Public Open House to learn more about the project and its impact, such notice was not extended to Evanston’s residents most impacted.

Glenn Mackey, an Evanston resident who lives across the street and less than 200 feet from the property, said the most recent West End meeting grew contentious when he asked Ald. Rue Simmons why he and his neighbors had not received notification. Ald. Rue Simmons said that she had given public notice at the previous Fifth Ward meeting.

 

Environmental Impact

Interior of a Pumping Station in San Diego

The West End Pumping Station Impact Committee also says they have yet to receive information on the potential noise and vibration disturbances from the facility, nor on its potential hazards. Last month a poisonous chlorine gas leak at a North Baltimore pumping station took more than an hour to contain. Chlorine is used to treat water to be used for drinking.

Fifth Ward residents also expressed concerns, partially in reference to the 1711 Church Street Waste Transfer Station, about how much of their community’s finite Open Space the City intends to convert to housing municipal utility facilities, for not just for the City, but also to service neighboring communities.

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