Evanston Residents Sue Over Northwestern’s Ryan Field Deal

A rendering of a planned new Ryan Field in Evanston. (Credit: Northwestern University)A rendering of a planned new Ryan Field in Evanston. (Credit: Northwestern University)

A group of Evanston and neighboring Wilmette residents is going to court in an effort to halt the recently approved $800 million renovation of Northwestern University’s Ryan Field.

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The group of 13 residents who live near the stadium filed a legal complaint that asks Cook County Chancery Court to invalidate Evanston City Council’s recent vote to change the city’s zoning law to allow the renovated facility to host as many as six concerts per year.

The complaint accuses the city of Evanston of violating residents’ due process rights and alleges that “Mayor Daniel Biss and certain councilmembers cut a backroom deal in which they agreed to disregard the applicable laws and evidence in exchange for monetary contributions from Northwestern.”

Last week, Evanston City Council approved the rezoning by a 5-4 vote, with Biss casting the tiebreaking vote. The action came after city leaders negotiated an agreement with Northwestern that the school would provide the community at least $157 million over a 15-year period in tax revenue and other financial incentives.

“The community benefits package agreed to is a historic transformation of the relationships that we have with this institution,” Biss said at the time.

But nearby Evanston resident Andy Berman, a retired Cook County judge, said he supports the lawsuit and believes Biss put the interests of the school over the community.

“He literally bargained away the property rights of several thousand people that live in close proximity to this,” Berman told WTTW News.

A group called The Most Livable City Association has been opposed to the rezoning from the beginning and is also a plaintiff on the complaint. The complaint alleges the actions of Evanston City Council defied the recommendation of the city’s Land Use Commission, which voted 7-2 against the rezoning proposal.

The complaint also alleges that the city of Evanston violated municipal and state laws that require a supermajority vote on a zoning change when a certain percentage of nearby residents are opposed to that change. That Illinois law reads, in part:

“In case of a written protest against any proposed amendment of the regulations or districts, signed and acknowledged [1] by the owners of 20% of the frontage proposed to be altered, or [2] by the owners of 20% of the frontage immediately adjoining or across an alley therefrom, or [3] by the owners of the 20% of the frontage directly opposite the frontage proposed to be altered, is filed with the clerk of the municipality, the amendment shall not be passed except by a favorable vote of two-thirds of the alderpersons or trustees of the municipality then holding office.”

“The reason that those statutes exist is to protect property owners for precisely this kind of thing, when there’s a gigantic development that happens literally across the street again,” Berman said. “This is literally the biggest development in the history of Evanston, and the statutes were flat-out ignored.”

Northwestern representatives said they hope to break ground on the new stadium in the next few weeks to have it ready for the school’s 2026 football season.

Biss said early Thursday afternoon that he has not yet reviewed the suit. 

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