Evanston residents are getting a new neighbor: an $800 million rebuilt Ryan Field.
Evanston City Council on Monday voted yes on the field revamp and on a controversial zoning change to allow concerts.
Mayor Daniel Biss broke the tied vote in favor of Northwestern University’s pitch.
“This was a controversial decision,” Biss said. “Ultimately I felt this was a historic opportunity for our community to have an enormous investment in a state-of-the-art facility, to have cultural events that will bring people to our community and fundamentally to restructure the financial relationship between Northwestern and the city of Evanston.”
The council voted 5-4 on the zoning change to allow for six concerts per year, as well as on a community benefits agreement to the tune of $157.5 million over 15 years to local schools, downtown revitalization and more. Biss was the deciding vote for each tie.
The zoning vote comes despite a city commission rejecting the plan in a 7-2 vote in October.
This zoning change was a sticking point to critics of the plan.
David DeCarlo, president of the Most Livable City Association, said the this is a “radical zoning change.”
“That’s not right for the city and ultimately taking the side of powerful interest against the people who live here, pay taxes here and vote here,” DeCarlo said.
The group said it will be seeking “legal recourse.”
The zoning change vote also spurred “an open letter from Evanston lawyers” who argue that Biss’ deciding votes aren’t valid.
“The procedural shortcuts and many misstatements and misdirections that have characterized consideration of plans for rezoning Ryan Field should alarm all Evanstonians,” the letter reads.
“As lawyers, however, we are especially concerned that the conversation has proceeded as if only four of nine councilmembers along with the mayor can amend the zoning code. Evanston law requires at least six votes to do that.”
“Anybody’s got the right to sue,” Biss said.
He pointed out that of the nine City Council members, one worked with the university and recused himself from the vote, leaving a tie. Per city code, when there’s a tie, the mayor breaks the tie, he added.
“If we’re sued, we’re prepared to defend that,” Biss said.
Council members also voted 6-2 in favor of the stadium redevelopment.
That plan calls for a new state-of-the-art stadium that will be smaller in size than the nearly century-old structure it would replace, moving from a capacity of 47,000 to 35,000 for football games.