Residents of Winnetka and Glencoe received their first glimpse on Tuesday of what could potentially be a wide range of improvements to one of New Trier Township’s prominent business districts.
Officials from both municipalities hosted the open house at Winnetka’s Towne and Oak, where interested residents saw preliminary concepts for the Hubbard Woods streetscape project.
The event was to begin reviewing outcomes of a community survey, present residents with initial streetscape concepts and offer opportunities for feedback that could guide the future decision-making of village officials.
“The purpose of tonight is really just to provide options for the community to weigh in on,” said Jodi Mariano, principal designer with the project’s architect, Teska Associates. “And I think when we look at streetscape design, we have to look at what meets pedestrian safety and pedestrian comfort and get that right first.”
The Hubbard Woods streetscape project is part of a series of improvements in Winnetka’s three business districts. As previously reported by The Record, the village accomplished five phases of the work in the Elm Street Business District, which first began in 2020 and carried into 2023.
Winnetka adopted its downtown master plan in 2016, which identified streetscape improvements in the districts, said David Schoon, Winnetka’s community development director, noting that Hubbard Woods is the next area of focus.
Improvements throughout the Hubbard Woods district could be similar to the enhancements made in the downtown area but early indications show a preference for some different elements as well.
“We’re looking to tie the districts with certain elements and then also trying to create some uniqueness with other elements in each district,” Schoon said, adding that the pedestrian street poles in each area will likely be a tying element of the two districts.
A key piece of information officials presented at the open house was the results of a community survey that commenced in November of last year and concluded in early 2024.
Five hundred and eighty people participated in the survey, according to Mariano, who said it was issued to residents and businesses in Winnetka and Glencoe. Approximately 64 percent of survey participants live in Winnetka, while just under 20 percent live in Glencoe.
Respondents listed sidewalk cafe spaces, on-street parking and outdoor seating areas as their top three preferences when ranking streetscape functions they felt provide the most value.
When considering elements from the downtown streetscape project that should be transferred over, participants said benches, decorative planter pots, decorative brick pavers and street trees along sidewalks were their top choices.
A series of open-ended questions was also included in the survey, asking residents about elements of the Hubbard Woods right of way that should be protected and improved.
Residents noted the “sense of place and small-town character” as well as Hubbard Woods park and playground, charming building storefronts and businesses and the convenient traffic flow along Green Bay Road in the district as their top choices for elements that should be protected during the project.
Regarding hoped-for improvements, participants listed repairs to the roadways and sidewalks in poor condition, calm traffic and improved pedestrian safety and crossings, improved visibility and conflicts at Merrill Street, and improved pedestrian crossings and appearance at Tower Road as top choices.
Green Bay Road challenge
One imperative point that hangs over the project is the jurisdiction of Green Bay Road. Currently, the portion of the road north of Scott Avenue in Glencoe is already a village-owned road; however, the southern portion of Green Bay Road in Winnetka in the Hubbard Woods district is controlled by the Illinois Department of Transportation.
According to information from the Village of Winnetka, officials have explored a jurisdictional transfer with IDOT. If the transfer occurs, Winnetka would take over responsibility of the public right-of-way, which would allow the village greater design flexibility.
Poster presentations at the meeting included initial concepts for the various areas of the Hubbard Woods district and initial concepts included two options: one directional plan if the village takes control of Green Bay and one if IDOT remains in control.
“Right now, what we’re doing is coming up with concepts that we can then start having conversations with IDOT about what they would allow us to do in more detail if it remains IDOT (controlled) or if we pursue a jurisdictional transfer and want to take it over and what that process is,” Schoon said.
Schoon noted that funding will be a significant project and that the village would “like to identify potential grant opportunities.” But there are bumps in the road with that process right now.
“To be eligible for grants, you need to be far enough along in your development of your plan, and your documents and to be far enough along with those, you need to know what direction you’re going to go,” Schoon said. “And so, in the end, after we gather this information and refine the plan, and along the way we’ll be working with the Village Council, the council at some point is going to have to make a decision which direction they want to go with this streetscape.”
Presentation boards available at the meeting focused on preliminary concepts for the northern, central and southern portion of the districts as well an area referred to as the horseshoe. The term refers to the area that goes around Hubbard Woods Park and includes Merrill Street to the north, Tower Court and Gage Street.
Mariano noted another challenge throughout the district is narrow sidewalks. But the first order of business for the project will focus on solving traffic circulation and pedestrian safety and comfort.
“Once we solve the traffic circulation and pedestrian safety and pedestrian comfort, only then can we start to look at the bells and whistles,” Mariano said. “It’s like frosting on a cake. You can’t put frosting if the cake isn’t baked and so we have to make sure that we have a really good foundation here,” she added, noting that providing “more amenities and human scale to the street” are also often goals of streetscape work.
Neighboring Glencoe makes up the northernmost part of the Hubbard Woods district, which accounts for roughly 20 percent of it in total. Village officials view the project as a valuable opportunity.
“From my perspective, it’s a great opportunity to work with our neighbors to our south,” said Taylor Baxter, Glencoe’s development services director. “What’s good for the Winnetka side of Hubbard Woods, is good for the Glencoe side and vice versa, and I’d really like to see this be a cohesive business district. It’s a great opportunity for us to work together and work together with our neighbors on an important project.”
Terry Dason, executive director of the Winnetka-Northfield-Glencoe Chamber of Commerce, believes the streetscape updates to the downtown area have helped drive business toward the area. With Hubbard Woods on the docket, she said local retailers in the district are excited for what’s to come.
“What we’ve seen from the Elm Street business district is a lot more energy and foot traffic as a result of having the lights and the larger pavers for strollers and for families to be able to travel down the street together,” Dason said. “And so those are the kind of things that are going to help this community, this business district, get the foot traffic that they really desire to have.”
Winnetka officials are planning to schedule a meeting with IDOT to discuss the potential jurisdictional transfer and report back to the council with public feedback from the open house and its conversations with the state agency, Schoon said. That touchpoint with the council will help determine if “we’re headed in the right direction,” he added.
Mariano, along with village staff, will then begin to work on refinements to narrow down what the potential plan may look like. A second meeting with IDOT and a return trip the council will follow, before trustees will then offer staff a more concentrated direction for the project.
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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.