The Evanston Zoning Committee met on Tuesday night to evaluate the decision to allow the Great Room to operate as a dining facility for Northwestern students and staff. After four hours of proceedings, the court was still in the midst of cross-examination of the witnesses. Evanston officials motioned to adjourn the meeting until February ninth.
The hearing was held in the Council Chambers at Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center at 7:30 p.m. Around 80 Evanston residents and Northwestern students were in attendance.
The hearing addressed an appeal filed by Andrea and George Gaines, Evanston residents who live close to the Great Room. Located in a T-1 zone, which restricts operation of dorms and restaurants, Seabury-Western’s Great Room was recently converted from a reading area to a dining hall.
The appeal claims that Evanston’s zoning administrator, Bill Dunkley, should not have approved the food service license filed by Northwestern Food Services for the Great Room’s operation.
Evanston residents opposed to the opening of the Great Room assert that the building’s use has changed since it was owned by Seasbury-Western Theological Seminar last year. They consider this change to be in violation of Evanston zoning law.
Gaines expressed his concern over the possible noises, smells, additional traffic and parking issues and possible depreciation in his property since the Great Room’s opening.
Appellate attorney Art Newman argued that the opening of the Great Room was considered expanded and intensified use of Seabury, which should be considered a violation of zoning laws.
The lawyer for Northwestern Food Services, Priya Harjani, responded that the zoning staff who reviewed the application for the food and service license was justified in its decision that the Great Room dining facility was an accessory use, which is permitted under the area’s zoning law. She said that the shift should not be considered expansion or intensification of property use.
Harjani also argued that contrary to popular belief, Seabury-Western’s use actually decreased, as seating capacity and operating hours decreased following the opening of the Great Room.
“This appeal is solely based on fear and speculation, but nothing has happened to incite this fear. There is no reason for this cherished dining facility to be taken away from the students,” Harjani said.