The start of a new year brings with it the opportunity to look ahead and envision the possibilities of the next 12 months. And although 2024 is still in its infancy, Winnetka trustees saw a preliminary glimpse of what is sure to be a packed docket of projects and initiatives waiting for them in the year ahead.
Winnetka’s Village Council reviewed its projected slate of work for the year while discussing its priorities during an informal study session on Tuesday, Jan. 16.
Village President Chris Rintz prefaced discussion by noting it’s often been a goal of his to bring the council together in the early part of each new year to “look at what’s in the pipeline and what’s on our plate for the coming year.”
Rob Bahan, Winnetka’s village manager, led discussion throughout the evening, walking trustees through initiatives that were broken down into three categories: in-progress/ongoing work, 2022-23 committed pipeline projects and ongoing council business. Below are highlights from the council’s dialogue at the meeting.
Post office redevelopment
A key point of discussion throughout the meeting was the potential redevelopment of the current location of the U.S. Post Office in the West Elm business district.
As previously reported by The Record, Winnetka trustees first reviewed a concept plan presented by Rintz in 2022. The plan proposed reimagining the site into a new public gathering space filled with amenities, including a performance stage.
The concept, at the time, was informally referred to as a “town square,” and officials suggested plans that would open the area to serve as a dedicated place for residents and special events.
Rintz described progress on this potential project as “start again, stop again,” noting it’s been under consideration for a number of years. He added that officials had some momentum toward moving it forward but progress was previously stalled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We began to build a committee again about a year ago, then the lakefront regulations came on and it was clear that we did not have the bandwidth to be talking about anything post office while (the lakefront was under discussion),” Rintz added.
Officials did not present a precise timeline for the new U.S. post office at 586 Lincoln Ave. to be completed, but Bahan did mention January of 2025 as a potential completion date.
Several trustees described the project as a “high priority,” expressing a desire to move progress forward.
“We’ve received a lot of feedback,” trustee Kim Handler said. “ I think we have a good direction to make something happen and to finalize a plan. Given the nature of the plan, I don’t think it’s a real long construction period.”
Bahan said the current concept plan is “very conceptual” and will need to be refined “quite a bit” to consider the “nuts and bolts” of the potential project. But staff is anticipating that the project will be coming its way in the near future.
“We know it’s there, so we’re ready to allocate time,” Bahan said. “It can’t be the only thing we work on but we can allocate time for it.”
No recent development effort has entrenched local officials quite like proceedings surrounding the One Winnetka project.
The One Winnetka development site, a collection of buildings located at the southeast corner of Elm Street and Lincoln Avenue, has been the subject of several project pitches for years.
In August of last year, Winnetka’s Planned Development Commission held a public hearing on the latest version of the proposed project. That plan included a four-story, mixed-use development that featured 59 residential units, 20,955 square feet of commercial space and a total of 152 parking, according to village documents.
The Planned Development Commission unanimously recommended approval of the project in the summer but plans have yet to make their way in front of the Village Council.
Bahan said that officials are hoping to see plans in the next 30-60 days but added that the village is “waiting on them.”
A key reasoning for the holdup appears to be disagreements between the village and the developer regarding performance security.
“The issues have been significantly narrowed and we’re just asking the development team to communicate what their preferences are on (performance) security,” Bahan said . “And we’ve made our position known … I think they have a different perspective.”
Bahan said that there won’t be a proposal happening at the council’s meeting later this month, but he also noted that moving the project forward is a priority for village staff.
“It’s a priority for us every week, but it’s on the development team to get their act together,” he said. “It needs to move,” Bahan later added.
Similar to the post office project, there is also significant hope among the council to push progress on One Winnetka forward.
Trustee Rob Apatoff said he views those two projects “about as critical as it gets,” adding that “they are priorities that are in the middle and heart of our town.”
There is also a sense of optimism among the board regarding its overall satisfaction with the latest iteration of plans.
“Despite strong feelings about the process, we’re at the point, from what I’ve seen that’s gone through the planned development process, I think it’s a better looking project than other projects that were approved,” Trustee Tina Dalman said. “I think it can be successful, so hopefully they will come through.”
Indian Hill lot redevelopment
The potential redevelopment of the Indian Hill Metra station parking lot at the northeast corner of Green Bay Road and Winnetka Avenue was first discussed prior to the onset of the pandemic, but the vision of a reuse is still under consideration.
Village officials pinpointed the site as one that could potentially work for a housing project, specifically to fill the housing gap for seniors in the community.
Prior to the pandemic, the council had authorized staff to explore acquiring the property in full. Currently, Winnetka owns roughly two-thirds of the site. Previously, Union Pacific owned a small parcel on the site.
Winnetka officials hoped to acquire the property outright and consider future developments; however, Union Pacific recently sold its portion of the site to a developer, further complicating any efforts from village officials to move forward with any potential future plans.
Boris Cafe site
The future of the former home of Boris Café at 972 Green Bay Road has “taken a lot of staff time,” but no plans have come back to the village for review recently, Bahan said.
A proposal to repurpose the long-vacant building on the prominent Winnetka stretch received approval from the village’s design review board in early 2020. But plans were then put on hold due to the pandemic, officials said. A development pitch for the site has not come forward since.
The 2020 project included plans for two restaurants to fill the site.
Bahan said the village met with the property owner in August of last year and was subsequently told that a planned development application would be soon coming. But “it’s just been crickets since,” Bahan said.
“We stay in contact and ask and cajole as best we can but at the end of the day, it’s up to the property owner,” he said.
Many of the topics detailed during this category were infrastructure-related projects.
Several of the matters Bahan noted were related to stormwater management, as he provided updates on work on the Crow Island project as well as other ongoing village efforts.
The village is currently out to bid for construction services related to the Crow Island project, Bahan said, adding that proposals could be coming to the council by February, assuming competitive bids are received.
Bahan also provided updates on a couple of Illinois Department of Transportation jurisdictional transfer considerations. One transfer under consideration is Winnetka Avenue down to the Kenilworth limits, Bahan said. He also added that the village is looking into a transfer on Willow Road because the state currently owns Willow from Forest Way until the former location of Edwards Florist.
“There may be some real good reasons to have a jurisdictional transfer so that we can deal with lane configuration and maintenance and all the other utility work that we want to do there,” Bahan said.
- The village expects representatives from Chase Bank to be in front of the Planned Development Commission later this month and then move forward to the design review board. Plans for that site were previously reported by The Record.
- Officials are planning to meet with the Winnetka Park District later in February to work on a revised maintenance plan for potential updates to the Green Bay Trail. Bahan said there’s an existing agreement in place, but that “it’s probably time to update it.” Officials will then be looking at what are the first round of projects that we might be able to get moving.
- The park district’s special-use permit for work at Elder and Centennial beaches will be coming up later this year and “will be taking up significant time,” Bahan said.
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Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.