Winnetka Park District staff shared an initial timeline for the permit application process for the long-in-development Elder and Centennial beachfront project, and park commissioners got a look at the initial drafts of those documents during a Park Board meeting on Thursday, Nov. 16.
The applications are based on the latest schematic designs of the plans, which were approved by park commissioners in October.
Commissioners Cynthia Rapp and Colleen Root, who have consistently voiced the most criticism toward the district’s plans, asked most of the questions on Thursday. Both, along with now-former Commissioner David Seaman, voted to withdraw the initial permit applications for a previous version of the Elder-Centennial plans, which at the time included a property exchange agreement with the Ishbia family.
The Ishbia property at 261 Sheridan Road separates the two beaches. Park district officials initially sought to connect them via the property exchange agreement, but after the plans were withdrawn following vocal community criticism, the park district developed new project designs, which ignore the property exchange agreement that has been called “dormant.”
Both Root and Rapp shared similar concerns regarding language in the new permit applications.
Root disagreed with the phrasing that called the applications a “resubmittal,” saying it’s a “brand-new beach design.”
“I think that that language needs to be stricken from this cover letter,” she said. “I think any rendering that shows the original joint design between Orchard 2020 (which represents the Ishbia family) and this district needs to be removed from this application.”
Addressing Root’s concerns, Jon Shabica, with engineering firm Shabica & Associates, explained that permit applications can include unlimited design options.
“One of the reasons we thought it would be beneficial to leave the original design in is because there were so many public comments that, I feel, have been addressed in the redesign,” he said. “It was really from the standpoint of trying to help expedite permitting. The regulators see this now as two separate permit applications without the 261 property.”
Similarly, Rapp said that a website that was referenced in the application showed a previous design.
“I would recommend just removing that because I think it could potentially be irritating to the community to be directed to … the permit and the plan that we withdrew under a barrage of negative comment,” she said. “It might be better to just leave that out.”
Commissioner Warren James said that the permit applications are primarily meant for the regulatory agencies and not the public, but he did agree that a website for the public showing the evolution of the Elder-Centennial project would not be a bad idea.
Superintendent of Parks Costa Kutulas asked that any further comments on the permit applications be submitted to park district staff no later than noon on Wednesday, Nov. 22. From there, he said, final drafts of the applications will be prepared in time for the board’s committee of the whole meeting on Nov. 30.
He expects the applications to be submitted to regulatory agencies in early December.
Staff shares preliminary timeline
In addition to the applications themselves, Kutulas said that park district staff is working on a project timeline.
While still in the preliminary stages, he talked about one way in which the application process might end up playing out.
In addition to submitting the permits to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Kutulas said, because the plans call for work on a storm pipe, they will also have to submit a permit to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.
He also said that a permit will likely be needed from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.
“If we’re able to submit our plans in early December, we’re looking at August for our timeline to hopefully get permits back,” Kutulas said. “That’s going through their permit review process, that goes through their 30-day public notice process, and everything else that goes along with that.”
The park board will also have to submit permits to the Village of Winnetka. Kutulas said that process is a little more unclear, as the Village is currently working to determine if they should adopt regulations to lakefront construction.
What the park district knows for sure, according to Kutulas, is that they will have to go through a special use permit process.
“Reviewing the process, we would have to go to the planning commission, we’ll have to review with the zoning commission, we’ll have to review with the design and review board,” he said, adding that there will be at least two meetings with the Village Council before any permits are voted on.
Kutulas said his goal is to have a chart and timeline ready by the board’s next committee of the whole meeting on Nov. 30.
If the permitting process works in the park board’s favor, Kutulas said the renovations at Elder and Centennial will be done by the late summer or early fall of 2025.
James voiced support for tracking the process at every future board meeting once the permit applications are submitted.
“We will update it biweekly, so that when we come to these meetings, we’ll be well informed as to where that critical path takes us to reopening Elder and Centennial,” 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.