Major regulatory changes are not likely in store for the Village of Winnetka’s oversight of the lakefront; however, trustees do believe some change is necessary.
The Village Council met for a study session Tuesday, Jan. 31, to follow up on a Jan. 10 conversation in which it heard from a number of policy experts to better understand oversight of the land in and around Lake Michigan.
Trustees agreed on Tuesday that the Village’s permitting process has “gaps” that should be covered to enable better development near Lake Michigan.
“Last meeting what struck me and left me a little discouraged was that there are clear gaps in our process here,” Trustee Bob Dearborn said. “… This is not about any one project, any one property. This is a gap that we owe it to future councils to get the process right.”
Trustee Andrew Cripe opened the conversation by highlighting lakefront-relevant passages from the Winnetka Village Code.
Cripe showed that the Village has authority to regulate structures and surfaces and protect public access villagewide, which the council was surprised to learn includes about a half mile into Lake Michigan.
The code does not contain specific language that identifies the Village’s beyond-shore jurisdiction and how to regulate and enforce it.
“For our Village staff, to keep them guessing at what to approve and not approve, giving them a clear definition keeps them out of harm’s way,” Trustee Rob Apatoff said. “This code does not make it clear, so a little light-tough filling could really do wonders.”
While trustees repeated that the discussion was not directed at any one project, Village President Chris Rintz addressed the “elephant in the room”: lakefront development by the Ishbia family.
Rintz talked about a recent meeting he and Cripe had with Justin Ishbia, who owns multiple lots along Sheridan Road and is planning to consolidate and redevelop the land on four of them. Ishbia also owns the property between Centennial and Elder Lane beaches and is in controversial negotiations with the Winnetka Park District to swap his land for another lakefront parcel.
The story line has touched a nerve within the community, stirring passionate public feedback and numerous fiery exchanges among residents, local officials and even the Ishbia family during public meetings.
Rintz said the Ishbias’ current development proposal south of Centennial Park is scaled “way, way, way, way, way back” and he believes Ishbia wants to develop his land in alignment with other lakefront-property owners.
Some residents and officials called for a Village moratorium on lakefront permitting until town officials could review its processes and install desired changes. Trustees discussed the idea Tuesday. At least two trustees, Apatoff and Dearborn, expressed a openness to a moratorium, while Cripe and Rintz expressed opposition to the idea.
Rintz said if the point of a moratorium was to stop Ishbia proposal, it would be “wrong and shameful” for the council to execute one. Cripe added a moratorium is “not helpful” and would just lead to a fight, saying the Village already has appropriate oversight in place. He urged community members to cool off.
“We have to dial down the temperature big time in the town,” he said. “It’s crazy, it’s just nuts, it’s bonkers, it’s totally counter productive. Everyone needs to calm down and we need to engage constructively with property owners.”
More than 40 community members attended the meeting with a handful, including Park Board Commissioners Warren James and Christina Codo, addressing the council.
Attorney Hal Franke told trustees he represented “a number of” Sheridan Road residents concerned about lakefront regulation. He asked about trustees’ next steps to consider amending the Village code.
Rintz said village officials will communicate with the community prior to future discussions — such as another study session — on the topic but none are yet scheduled.
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