Northfield, News

Village Board green lights engineering for Happ Road upgrades, including roundabout

Trustees pass new public-comment regulations and hear about opening date for cannabis dispensary

Northfield trustees have approved a supplemental agreement with the engineering firm working on the long-anticipated second phase of Happ Road improvements.

With the 5-1 approval at the Village Board’s regular meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 20, trustees and Village staff also addressed concerns from some residents about a planned roundabout and fountain centerpiece on Happ Road.

The lone dissenting vote came from Trustee Barnaby Dinges, who participated in the meeting remotely by telephone. Dinges did not take part in any discussion Tuesday and it is unclear why he voted against the engineering contract.

As previously reported by The Record, the second phase of Happ Road improvements will focus on the portion of the road through downtown Northfield — from Winnetka Avenue to Willow Road. The project is designed to improve safety for both motorists and pedestrians, in addition to work such as replacing shoulders and drainage ditches.

The biggest planned addition to Happ Road is a roundabout located at the Orchard Lane intersection. The board has also signaled support for adding a fountain to the center of that roundabout.

At Tuesday’s meeting, interim Village Manager Tim Frenzer explained that the supplemental agreement is related to “a number of items that have come up” while Patrick Engineering, the firm tasked with the Happ Road project, has continued their engineering work.

Several of those items are related to the proposed fountain, including concepts, water line and sump pump designs, and landscape restoration.

The supplemental agreement to Patrick Engineering’s contract is $107,184.

In his memo to the board, Frenzer said Northfield would be responsible for $79,172 of those costs, while Cook County will reimburse $28,000 per an intergovernmental agreement between the two entities.

Frenzer added that the project is expected to go out to bid this summer and that the proposed fountain will be bid separately as what he referred to as an “alternative item.”

Trustees and Frenzer also addressed several questions that came up during public comment regarding the roundabout and fountain.

Frenzer confirmed that Cook County, which maintains Happ Road, is requiring Northfield to build a roundabout.

Resident Don Graf asked if the Village could delay the project until more community members are informed about it, while also asking if there could be a community survey or referendum.

“Believe me, there’s a lot of (residents) that had no idea this was about to happen,” he said.

Frenzer responded that he didn’t believe a survey or referendum would make any difference since Happ Road is a county road and that the Village does not have a lot that it can do to oppose the county’s requirements.

He also called roundabouts “the way of the future” and said, from an engineering perspective, they are safer forms of road travel.

Kim Orth, the wife of Trustee Charles Orth, also questioned the proposal to add a fountain and asked if the board had ever discussed it.

Trustee Todd Fowler responded that the trustees discussed the fountain twice — at committee of the whole meetings in May and July 2023 – and said they spent discussing what the right option was for the roundabout’s centerpiece, ultimately giving staff direction to explore the smaller fountain option.

Trustee Tom Whittaker added that no final decision has been made on any fountain.

“It’s just direction,” he said. “And if there’s other costs or things that we feel the need to change our focus, we have the ability to do so.”

Village President Greg Lungmus added that the trustees will know more after the project’s bids come back, which he said will help in making any decisions about a potential fountain.

New public comment guidelines approved

Also on Tuesday, trustees unanimously passed amended rules for public commentary during board meetings, including limiting a speaker’s time to three minutes.

The changes were discussed at the January committee of the whole meeting, with Frenzer noting that Northfield is the only community in New Trier Township that does not have a limit on the time for public comment.

Orth said he heard from concerned residents about the time limit and suggested either lengthening the time to five minutes or not having a limit at all.

“We don’t really have too many people that speak too often for too long,” he said.

Frenzer said that while the new rules cap public comments at three minutes, the board also has the discretion to lengthen public comment periods. Residents may also make longer comments if pre-approved by the board, he said, and the limit does not apply to situations such as public hearings or zoning cases where an “interested party” is speaking.

“Without the rule, it’s just the presiding officer deciding on an ad-hoc basis who gets to speak, how long,” Frenzer said. “At that point, you’re not protecting peoples’ rights.”

After hearing Frenzer’s explanation, Orth said he was satisfied and ultimately voted to approve the changes.

Dispensary opening date planned

Northfield’s first cannabis dispensary is planning to open this spring.

Steve Gutierrez, the Village’s community development director, said he recently spoke to the operator of BLOC Cannabis Dispensary who said the business plans on opening in either late March or early April.

In March 2022, trustees unanimously approved BLOC’s request to open a dispensary at 161 Waukegan Road.

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Peter Kaspari

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.

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