Violations Mounting in City’s Handling of West End Pumping Station

UPDATE: Evanston Design & Review Committee approved final plans Wednesday, Feb. 28. Final project approval is still needed by City Council. 

This story is a follow up to our earlier reporting.


West End residents gained steam at Monday night’s City Council meeting. The majority of the 45 minutes of public comment were comprised of residents detailing the City’s procedural mishandling in its rush to construct an intermediary pumping station at 2525 Church St.

The sole proponent of the station was Daniel Stein, VP of the City’s Parks & Recreation Board. He said that while he was mindful that mistakes might have been made in the process, he didn’t think of the project so much as a pumping station than as a splash park. However, the splash park has yet to receive funding or safety assessments needed to place the children’s outdoor play area adjacent to the pumping station.

Click to Enlarge. Site plans include proposed sanitary sewer, storm sewer, gas main, trench with man hole and soldium hypochlorite storage room with exterior door.

The City has stated the urgency of the facility construction came when Skokie residents successfully opposed construction of its original site there. Evanston West End residents were not given public notice of the project prior to its action at City Council.

The West End Pumping Station Impact Committee (WEPSIC) who have opposed the City’s handling of the proposed facility reported that the group had gathered the $275 fee to submit the Zoning Appeal application to the City. A WEPSIC representative told Evanston Leads that Mike Griffith, Evanston’s Development Planner, had told the group that the fee requirement could not be waived for them as it is part of City Ordinance 125-0-17.

The City did, however, agree to waive all required permit fees, license fees and plan review fees related to this project for the Morton Grove-Niles Water Commission (MGNWC). Those fees are also part of City Code upon submission of the necessary applications, and prior to any permit or use approvals.

The precedent of the Municipal Use Exemption could later be extended to the entire 235.04 by 481.47-ft. parcel, subject to Zoning staff interpretation. The City’s Water Supply agreement makes explicit it is not limited in expanding its water sales to other municipalities.

Evanston Leads also obtained the previously encrypted technical memorandum detailing noise pollution from the initial Design & Planning Review DAPR packet. It reads that the station’s standby electrical power generator will have three primary sources of sound that can be heard an estimated 20 feet outside the building: the engine, the cooling fan and the exhaust. The generator will operate one hour each month during testing, as well as when there will be electrical power to the site, and will remain below the maximum decibels allowed by the City.


CITY ZONING VIOLATIONS

On February 7, DAPR granted preliminary approval to recommend to City Council for the Municipal Use Exemption. On February 12, the City granted the exemption in Resolution 10-R-18. The Council’s exemption approval doesn’t authorize the actual facility construction, only the preparation, filing and processing of applications for the necessary permits and approvals required by City regulation, such as use and building permits.

The lot of the intended facility at 2525 Church, is within an Open Space District. “Open Space” as defined by Evanston Municipal Code is:

“An area of naturally existing or planted vegetation adjacent or surrounding a land use, unoccupied in its entirety by any enclosed structure, or portion of such land use, used as a buffer for the purposes of screening and softening the effects of the use, building or structure, no part of which buffer is used for parking or outdoor storage.”

While the City allows for Municipal Use Exemptions for structures, they remain governed by the Standards for Use Interpretations, including:

(B) No use interpretation shall permit any use in any district unless evidence shall be presented that demonstrates that it will comply with the general district regulations established for that particular district.

(E) No use interpretation shall permit the establishment of any use that would be inconsistent with the statement of purpose of the district in question.

Open Space Districts are so restrictive in allowed development that they don’t even appear as an option on the City’s Zoning District’s Services and Application page.


MUNICIPAL USE VIOLATIONS

The City’s approved Municipal Use Exemption is problematic in other ways.

A “Municipal Use” is not a defined or qualified Use, it is only qualified to serve as a use exemption, and so must be used inclusively with one of the defined and qualified uses, or City Code prohibits its enforcement.

Defined Uses include:  Permitted, Special, Temporary, Allowed (permitted, special, principal or accessory), Institutional, Nonconforming (structures in place prior to the adoption of the Ordinance), Principal and Unique. A Unique Use allows a use that is not listed as an authorized special or permitted use within the zoning district, and has its own standards and procedures.

Additionally, a Municipal Use Exemption may only be granted for structures that are owned or operated by the City, but any NonCity-operated infrastructure would not qualify for the exemption. The pumping station will be owned by the Morton Grove Niles Water Commission (MGNWC), according to David Stoneback, Director of the City’s Public Works Agency. Operational responsibilities are divided, according to the Water Supply agreement.

The second requirement for the Municipal Use Exemption necessitates evidence presented that demonstrates the structure is necessary for the provision of desired City services. When asked if any of the water from the facility will be used for Evanston, Stoneback said no. Evanston would be providing the water to the residents of Morton Grove and Niles.


WHAT’S NEXT

The City and MGNWC have skipped a number of required steps in seeking and granting various approvals for the project. Should they change course and comply to Code moving forward, here’s what the steps and time table look like:

  • Applicants, in this case MGNWC, must submit a formal application for a nonpermitted use in order to obtain a review and recommendation from the boards.

To date, the MGNWC has not submitted an application for a nonpermitted use at 2525 Church St. MGNWC’s Zoning Analysis Application, dated January 31, 2018, was approved incomplete, not having provided specifications such as gross floor area (necessary for compliance to OS district maximum floor area requirements). The Application has yet to receive a stamp from the Zoning Office, per unredacted City records.

Click to Enlarge: The facility has a peak height of 25 feet.
  • After the filing of a “perfected application” for a nonpermitted use, the Zoning Administrator transmits the application to the Plan Commission and schedules a staff review conference and a public hearing date. The Plan Commission conducts public hearings on applications for planned developments, zoning amendments and unique uses. (See Required Zoning Hearings Neighbors’ Information)
  • Property owners who live within 1000 square feet of the property may object to the use or development by submitting a written request for the granting of one continuance for the purpose of presenting evidence to rebut the Applicant’s testimony.

To date, the Plan Commission has not conducted a public hearing on a MGNWC application for a nonpermitted use at 2525 Church St. according to Plan Commission agendas, as required for City Council approval.

The Zoning Committee, a subcommittee of the Plan Commission, has also not presented a 2525 Church St./MGNWC agenda item to date, per the Committee’s agendas.

  • At least 15 days prior to the hearing date, the City must give  General Notice of a Public Hearing by a publication of general circulation.

To date, the City has not given General Notice of a Public Hearing as required by City Code for approval.

  • The Applicant must send the Mailed Notices by first-class mail to all property owners within 1,000 square feet of the property lines, and then submit an affidavit to the City certifying that they have complied with the Mailed Notice. All notices must contain the time, date and location of the public hearing. Property owners who live within 1,000 feet have the right to inspect all documents and materials submitted as part of the application prior to the hearing and to present witnesses on their behalf.

To date, MGNWC has not sent the Mailed Notices nor submitted the affidavit as required by City Code for approval.

  • The purpose of the public hearing for the application is to determine by specific evidence presented if the applicant has met or failed the applicable standards as outlined within the Zoning Ordinance.
  • After the Public Hearing, the Plan Commission may only make their recommendations on the use permit based upon written findings of fact with regard to factors including:
    • Evidence that demonstrates the buildings and structures will be owned or operated by the City. (for Municipal Use Exemptions)
    • Evidence that demonstrates the necessity of the facility for the provision of desired City services. (for Municipal Use Exemptions)
    • Evidence of special and extraordinary need for the use, including evidence of the unique characteristics of the subject property, proposed use, and/or the neighborhood surrounding the property. (for Unique Uses)
    • Evidence that the project is designed to be reasonably compatible with surrounding properties and the neighborhood. (for Unique Uses)
  • If prior to the Plan Commission hearing, opposing residents file a written protest, signed and acknowledged by at least 30% of the Property Owners within the 1,000-foot radius of the property boundary with the City clerk, the subsequent Council approval must have at least a 75% favorable vote.
  • The City Council may act only after receiving the recommendation made at the hearing by the Plan Commission or Zoning Board of Appeals.

At the February 12 Council meeting, the City approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Morton Grove/Niles Water Commission Staff for the construction and operation of the intermediate booster pump station. A MoU is not legally binding, but serves as a formal agreement indicating an intended common line of action.

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