Winnetka, News

After commissioners walk out, Winnetka Park Board cannot vote to protest Village’s lakefront proposals

The Winnetka Park Board met with the hopes of deciding whether to formally protest a plan in front of the Village of Winnetka Board of Trustees.

But it couldn’t.

Commissioners Cynthia Rapp and Colleen Root walked out of the session, leaving the Park Board — a seven-member board that was already without Commissioners Warren James and Jeff Tyson — short of a legal quorum on Wednesday, July 5.

According to the Open Meetings Act, a quorum — or a majority — of a public body must be present for the body to take action on public business.

The Village Board’s agenda for its meeting on Thursday, July 6, features four ordinances increasing Village control over lakefront property, the result of a monthslong discussion spanning multiple meetings on if and how the Village should increase its regulations near the lake.

The conversation’s impetus was the massive project planned for 209 through 195 Sheridan Road, where the Ishbia family has razed multiple properties to build a new home just south of Centennial Park Beach. The Ishbias also own the property in between Centennial and Elder park beaches that is the subject of a controversial and incomplete land-swap agreement with the Winnetka Park District.

Park Board President Christina Codo said during Wednesday’s meeting that she believes the Village’s lakefront proposals were developed with the park district in mind.

“I would argue that this is very pointed and very discriminatory (against the park district),” she said, later adding, “I feel like it is targeted toward us. I feel like it constrains our activities and feel like it’s hasty and we haven’t had enough time to judge (the Village proposals).”

The Park Board’s session Wednesday included a legal presentation from district attorney Adam Simons, who gave a summary and his thoughts on the Village’s proposed ordinances (which can be read in full online). One of the Village’s measures would create a Lakefront Preservation Overlay District, which would cover some park district land; and another would put a nine-month moratorium on construction within a “steep-slope zone along the Lake Michigan bluffs.”

After his summary, Simons said he believes the proposals are “unusual and inconsistent with Illinois law.” He also questioned the purpose of the measures and the amount of time (nine months) the Village would need to research them.

Fifteen members of the public spoke during the designated period. Most of them opposed the park district filing a formal protest to the Village of Winnetka with many worried about intensifying intergovernmental strife.

Root and Rapp separately questioned the purpose of a protest from the park district.

Simons said without a protest, the park district’s options, including litigation, remain open if the Village proposals are passed.

“This doesn’t seem to buy us anything other than antagonizing another municipal body within the village of Winnetka with whom we need to work and collaborate on things on a regular basis,” Rapp said.

Codo called the protest measure to the board and it as moved by Commissioner Eric Lussen and seconded by Commissioner James Hemmings, who stated he would support the protest. To end the discussion, Codo said the purpose of a protest is to make statement to the Village of Winnetka.

“On a matter of principal, I would protest,” she said. “I don’t think there’s much teeth to a protest, but I think it’s fair.”

As the board was set for a roll-call vote, Rapp and Root exited the board room.

Park District Executive Director John Petersen followed, and when he returned, Codo said: “The two commissioners will not be returning. We no longer have a quorum and can no longer conduct our business.”

Rapp did not immediately return a message from The Record. In a followup call, Root said that, “leaving (the meeting) was not orchestrated or premeditated in any way. It was simply in response to what was happening.” She declined to comment further.

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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