The future of Langdon beach is still up in the air, as Wilmette Park Board commissioners who met Monday, Aug. 14, now have four potential beach access plans to ponder. They’ll also have to wrestle with what the Americans With Disabilities Act could or should require them to include in those plans.
The board last month indicated unofficially that commissioners would probably only vote on ADA compliant options. They took no vote Aug. 14 on the options they were presented with at the meeting by SmithGroup, the architecture firm tasked with creating access solutions for the tiny beach.
Only the first of the four options was ADA compliant, so commissioners directed SmithGroup representatives to work with WT Group to find ways to make the other three meet state and federal accessibility regulations. WT Group is the engineering group the district tapped this month to analyze how state and federal regulations, including those in the ADA, would affect each of the plans.
Right now only the option to provide beach access with a 500-foot path starting at the north of the park meets ADA regulations, according to WT Group partner John McGovern. That doesn’t mean the other three couldn’t be made compliant, he told the board. In fact, although there are some exemptions possible under ADA rules, he said that federal rules state that the Langdon project must comply with accessibility requirements.
The remaining options all posit a beach access path starting at Landon’s south end. The second and fourth options are similar, featuring varying slope depths and shorter path lengths, of 380 and 450 feet respectively. The fourth plan would connect to Langdon’s existing pedestrian walkway at the park above the beach.
The third option, which would use a boardwalk that minimizes the path’s slope and is the shortest path at 300 feet, was developed to meet an earlier board request to consider construction and materials similar to those at Winnetka’s Tower Road Beach.
Whether the board will tackle their access issues at their Aug. 28 committee of the whole session, where no votes can be taken, or at their Sept. 11 regular meeting is also unclear, Park District Executive Director Steve Wilson said on Tuesday, Aug. 15.
“In conversations with the board, the general thought was that by September we should have everything figured out. September has been the target, but I don’t know if that’s a solid expectation at this time,” he said.
Commissioners did question Mark Wagstaff, SmithGroup’s principal senior waterfront engineer, and his colleague, landscape architect Jennifer Keliher, about the path options. They also asked about proposed plantings from the top of Langdon’s bluff to the beach.
Commissioner Patrick Duffy asked if any of the path options might end up in the water, given that Langdon’s rising and falling water levels can eliminate the beach entirely. The beach, which lies below the Langdon Park bluff at Sheridan Road and Chestnut Avenue, was closed indefinitely in 2019 because it had been so eroded by stormwater that it essentially didn’t exist.
More than 40 people attended the meeting and several of them urged commissioners to schedule a special board meeting, solely about Langdon Beach, before making any decision.
Wilmette resident Beth Beucher said many residents are confused about how the ADA could affect Langdon’s beach and the approach to it. That issue and others are complex and confuse people, she said; a board meeting focusing on the Langdon process would be “the smart thing to do,” she said.
Fellow resident Melissa Morgante supported the idea, saying the proposed changes are significant. Resident Dean Lindsay said scheduling such a meeting would help people regain trust in the park district. He also asked that the district provide photo realistic renderings of the four Langdon options to give residents a more accurate understanding of each one.
Wilson said Aug. 15 that there was no legal reason the board couldn’t call a special meeting, but he didn’t know what commissioners would do: “It’s the board’s decision to determine if it’s helpful.”
While the board hasn’t decided on a permanent solution, plans for a temporary gravel path to Langdon Beach are close to completion, Wilson said. Once those plans are completed, the work could be done within three to four days, he said.
Before the board turned its attention from Langdon, Commissioner Cecilia Clarke mourned the lack of board action on the project. There’s been no decision, and this year’s summer is almost done, she said. If the board had chosen the first option earlier this year, progress would already be underway, she suggested.
“We’re just spending more time, more money, and residents (still) can’t use Langdon,” she said.
The SmithGroup and WTGroup presentations are available to view as part of the park board’s Aug. 14 agenda packet.
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Kathy Routliffe reported in Chicago's near and North Shore suburbs (including Wilmette) for more than 35 years, covering municipal and education beats. Her work, including feature writing, has won local and national awards. She is a native of Nova Scotia, Canada.