For more than a year, plans to improve Elder and Centennial beaches have been on hold as the Winnetka Park District continues to negotiate a controversial land exchange agreement with a property owner on the lakefront.
But at the Park Board’s committee of the whole meeting on Thursday, Feb. 9, discussions were focused on the improvements at the two beaches irrespective of the land swap.
Plans to renovate the beaches will move forward, said Park Board President Warren James, who shared a timeline he is recommending to Park District staff.
No commissioners objected to the timeline, which was formed following a Jan. 31 open house where the latest designs for Elder and Centennial were presented.
“My objective, my recommendation, is that staff move forward … so that we have documents ready to present to the public at another open house on March 18,” James said.
Following that open house, he said the board will meet on March 23 and give “specific direction regarding design and permit application for Elder.”
In late April, James said he would like to continue discussions on Centennial improvements, which would include ADA accessibility, dog beach fixes, and “the fence configuration and the integration with Orchard 2020 (which represents the Ishbia family), the objective being to make some decisions at that April meeting.”
In 2020, The Winnetka Park District entered into the property exchange agreement with the Ishbia family, which owns property between Elder and Centennial, in order to form a contiguous beachfront. That agreement has been the center of dramatic discussions, with community members, park commissioners and even the village trustees voicing their objections to aspects of the plan.
But that agreement was only mentioned in passing at Thursday’s meeting, with James stating he wants to see the beach work done first.
“Lock in on Elder in March, lock in on Centennial … in April, and any further discussion about an exchange would be after that,” he said. “We’re not coupling these two things together.”
Elder Beach, which has been closed since 2020, is taking priority among the two because, James said, of urgent maintenance concerns.
He explained that underneath the sand are gabion blankets, which contain metal wiring and help control erosion but have been “torn apart” and have “sharp wires sticking up.”
“We don’t know when the sand moves,” James said. “What we do know is that there are exposed wires that are like Punji sticks that could injure someone if people use the beach, and we don’t know if there’s enough sand cover. So, we need to address that.”
Broken concrete from storm sewer pipes is also a concern.
“That’s why Elder’s closed,” James said. “And it’s incumbent upon us to take action so we can correct it and open it.”
In addition to the timelines, commissioners also received an update on the Centennial dog beach, where construction on a fence was halted last month when it was revealed that the Park District did not receive the proper permits to begin the work.
It received a stop work order on Jan. 20 from the Village of Winnetka, one of the three entities (also U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources) from which the park district needs permission.
Park District Executive Director John Peterson previously said the dog beach, which was an off-leash dog park, was not in compliance with a Cook County ordinance that requires barriers at off-leash dog parks.
At Thursday’s meeting, Peterson said the fence has been taken down and the dog park is now a leashed park.
Superintendent of Parks Costa Kutulas said that the Park District will not be pursuing the permits at this time
“We are not in the permit stage at this time,” he said.
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Peter Kaspari is a blogger and a freelance reporter. A 10-year veteran of journalism, he has written for newspapers in both Iowa and Illinois, including spending multiple years covering crime and courts. Most recently, he served as the editor for The Lake Forest Leader. Peter is also a longtime resident of Wilmette and New Trier High School alumnus.