Things get heated at council meeting

Mayor Williams: ‘It feels like we’ve been stabbed in the back’

By Kayne Pyatt, Herald Reporter
Posted 5/22/24

EVANSTON — Emotions ran high during last week’s Evanston City Council works session after the city received a notice to cease and desist with its current Roundhouse project to help …

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Things get heated at council meeting

Mayor Williams: ‘It feels like we’ve been stabbed in the back’


EVANSTON — Emotions ran high during last week’s Evanston City Council works session after the city received a notice to cease and desist with its current Roundhouse project to help facilitate a brewery at the historical building.

“The project at the Roundhouse courtyard started before I came to work for the city and the city is already about four years into it. As we discussed at an earlier meeting, due to the cost, we had to readjust our plans,” city engineer Damon Newsome said. “I thought we came up with a good alternative but, because of an email Jim Davis wrote to SHPO (State Historic Preservation Office) with concerns about the new set of plans, we have been told by SHPO to cease and desist on the Railyard’s courtyard project. The TAP (Transportation Alternative Program) project is now stalled.”

Newsome explained the city already had been granted one extension for the project, and the expiration date for the completion of the project for the use of the grant funds is Dec. 31, about seven months from now. He said if they don’t resolve it and have a timeline to complete the work, they are in danger of losing the federal grant and may even have to pay back what they have already spent from the grant.

Evanston Community Development Director Rocco O’Neill said the city had consulted with the Evanston Historic Preservation Commission (EHPC) every step along the way and “for lack of a better word, it’s been confusing.”

Local resident Mike Slaughter said, “I recall, from a recent city council meeting, Shelly Horne telling the council and the mayor that there had been no discussion with EHPC on the tearing down of the ironworks building. That doesn’t sound like a consultation.”

O’Neill responded, “That was a stand-alone decision, and we needed to get things done.”

O’Neill said again that the city had consulted with SHPO on the ironworks building and he had spoken with Rick Eskelsen about the pieces of equipment stored in the ironworks building to preserve them. He said the city went though the proper channels at every step but there were certain individuals along the way who “derail productivity.”

Eskelsen, who was attending the meeting to talk about the Wahsatch water tower, told the council it was important to work together as quickly as possible to resolve the issue.

Newsome told the council that SHPO needs validation of the new design plans, and he isn’t sure how far back in the process they would have to go. He added that WYDOT (Wyoming Department of Transportation), which is responsible for the federal grant, will not participate or release any more funds until the issue is resolved and have turned it entirely over to SHPO.  WYDOT will rely solely on SHPO’s response.

A concern expressed from the council is that the delay may cause an increase in the cost of construction if it takes too long to resolve.

“We not only risk losing the TAP funds, but we risk losing another year of construction time,” Mayor Kent Williams said. He asked City Treasurer Trudy Lym about the amount of grant funds that had already been spent.

Lym said that $34,204 had already been drawn and another $23,000 was scheduled but not drawn yet. The last budget estimate for the project was at $685,700.

Williams asked the several EHPC members who were present if they had any comments as to what the problems were with the plan. He said he thought a workable compromise had been agreed upon.

EHPC member Joan Nixon said, “I was aware of the email Jim (Davis) sent, and I think it was mostly about the concern with the plan including the removal of all but one of the railroad tracks and the tearing down of the ironworks building. However, I was not aware of SHPO’s response. I don’t know why we can’t work together.”

Eskelsen, who is a volunteer with but not a member of EHPC, said that his main concerns are the water tower and switch engine 4420, and he doesn’t get into any of the other projects. He said he thinks the council, the mayor, O’Neill and EHPC should get together very soon and communicate.

He also said there are ways to work with the track and not have to take them out. He reminded the council that he had brought pictures of other roundhouse courtyards to an earlier meeting to show them some options.

“Any improvements done right will be our footsteps into history,” Eskelsen said.

“Quite honestly, we’ve been back and forth for several years now trying to make compromises and quite literally it feels like we’ve been stabbed in the back,” Mayor Williams said.

Councilmember Jen Hegeman said, “I know how it feels to have someone write a letter behind your back. It is EHPC’s job to save every brick and stone, and it is your job to modernize it and somewhere in the middle of this lack of communication is compromise.”

The conversation continued with Williams and O’Neill defending the decisions made by the city and continuing to claim that SHPO and EHPC had been consulted along the way and members of the audience saying they had heard Shelly Horne state in a council meeting that those claims were false.

Mayor Williams said, “The Roundhouse is no longer an industrial facility, and it is evolving into something that is going to provide an economic benefit to the city. Historical value has its place, but it’s not an industrial facility any longer. We are trying to do something good for the community and we keep coming up against hurdles.”

Eskelsen said, “You need to forget about what happened in the past and get with EHPC and get this resolved quickly.”

Nixon commented that a meeting with EHPC should have happened a long time ago because neither party is getting anything done and it is frustrating for her.

Newsome said he is not sure what the process will be if they have to start all over, but they need to get with SHPO and find out. He said again that WYDOT said they will not release any more funds until they get the approval from SHPO.

A topic brought up for discussion by EPD Chief Mike Vranish and Newsome at the work session was the traffic flow on Front Street brought. The two had been consulting over possible options for dealing with the traffic congestion at the stop light at 9th and Front streets.

“We see a problem with cars going from 9th Street onto Front Street and vice versa,” Chief Vranish said. “We are considering shutting down traffic for cars coming from 9th Street turning either left or right onto Front Street. If we put barricades across 9th at that corner, it will allow traffic coming up the underpass toward Front Street to flow more smoothly. We will still keep that 9th Street block open for parking, and we could put up detour signs for vehicles going to Yellowstone or to County Road.”

Newsome said it would not be permanent, but only for the high traffic months of the summer. They said they just wanted to discuss the idea with the council before asking for a resolution at a regular meeting.

Eskelsen had asked the council at their last regular meeting to provide the funds to bring the Wahsatch water tower to the Roundhouse. Councilmember Tim Lynch had also made a suggestion to the council that they fund the water tower during council comments.

Eskelsen was on the work session agenda to present a budget to the council.

“Frankly, to be honest with you, Rick,” Mayor Williams said, “this deal with the TAP project has to be resolved before we can talk about the water tower. It’s a money issue.”

Eskelsen said he wanted to give them the information he had gathered anyway to give them time to think about it when considering their new budget. He proceeded to give them each a handout of his estimated budget for moving the water tower and the cost for its placement at the railyards.

At the end of the meeting, Lym gave each member a copy of the proposed budget for capital projects with funding sources listed in red and asked department heads and council members to review them and bring any questions or comments to the next budget discussion.