Winnetka, News

Park district prepares to face Village’s new steep-slope regulations with Elder-Centennial application

Winnetka Park District officials are anchoring down the final improvements for Elder and Centennial beaches as they prepare to enter “unchartered territory.” 

The park district’s plans for the lakefront beaches will soon be headed to the Village of Winnetka — as well as several other agencies — for special-use approval. In addition to the village’s previously existing permit process, the proposed beach and bluff improvements at the two park district properties will face an added step as well: Winnetka’s recently approved steep slope bluff ordinance.

“We’re going to be one of the first (projects) that potentially goes through the special-use permit process required by the new steep slope bluff ordinance,” said Costa Kutulas, the Winnetka Park District’s director of parks and maintenance.

Kutulas walked Park Board commissioners through two presentations during their Thursday, March 7 committee of the whole meeting. His first presentation showcased a set of schematic design changes to the proposed work at Centennial Park Beach while his second detailed the special-use permit process. 

Kutulas told commissioners that the original layout needed revisions as consultants have shifted toward the construction design phase of work at Centennial. These revisions, according to Kutulas, are required to “ensure feasibility of construction and accessibility,” he said in a memo to the board. 

A revision Kutulas highlighted involved the slope sidewalk that leads down to the boardwalk. The revised plan widens that sidewalk slightly due to the retaining walls that are needed to support the access walk down to the boardwalk to the beach. 

In the memo to commissioners, Kutulas outlined the revision in more detail, noting that the “update lessens the impact of the outcropping stones at the beginning of the walkway and takes up less parkland to the north of the ramp.” 

Additionally, Kutulas explained during the meeting that the previous design was “more cumbersome and required more grading.” He added that the update is less invasive while noting that park officials also took into consideration Winnetka’s new ordinance and how it may affect their plans. 

“This is a more elegant design that checks a lot more of the boxes now that we’ve had the chance to take it from schematic down to engineering,” Kutulas said. 

An updated cost project to work in the proposed updates was not yet available to the park district, but Kutulas said that the costs should be negligible. 

While there was no formal vote at the meeting on the modified plan, commissioners showed strong support for the changes. 

“I think they accomplished several objectives,” Board President Christina Codo said. “It’s a better, gentler fit to the bluff, lower heights of the retaining walls, less impermeable surface … and I think it’s a truer shift from the existing. I’m in favor.” 

Regarding the permit process, the park district is planning to submit its materials on March 18, officials said at the meeting. The planned date for submissions directly aligns with the expiration of a 9-month moratorium on lakefront construction projects issued by the Winnetka Village Council is 2023. 

The park district with its request will be seeking a special-use permit to allow the construction of its proposed improvements to the beaches, a variance to permit development in the setback from the front yard ordinary high water mark, an exception to allow development in the steep slope zone and an exception to approve construction of retaining walls in the steep slope zone. 

The final two expectations the park is seeking relate to Winnetka’s new steep slope bluff ordinance.

As previously reported by The Record, the Park Board in mid-October of last year approved plans for the two beaches, which include multiple breakwaters, an ADA-accessible boardwalk with a concrete beach access ramp at both Elder and Centennial, and a dog beach at Centennial.

Kutulas’ presentation at the March 7 meeting highlighted the key aspects of the project the park district will detail as it makes its way through the review process in Winnetka. 

Commissioners lauded the presentation and provided little feedback regarding suggested changes.

The final topic related to work at Elder and Centennial that commissioners discussed was a potential intergovernmental agreement with the village of Winnetka. 

Park District Executive Director Shannon Nazzal said on March 7 that the park district had recently met with Village representatives to discuss stormwater. During that meeting, an intergovernmental agreement between the two entities was discussed regarding the storm water component of the project in an effort to “streamline the Elder Lane and Centennial project permitting process,” according to Nazzal. 

If the park district follows the standard review process, both projects would need to be reviewed by Winnetka’s Design Review Board, Zoning Board of Appeals and Plan Commission in addition to the Village Council. 

Executing an IGA with the village would allow the project to be reviewed by only the council. Yet, in her memo to the board, Nazzal said “time savings appear to be minimal, and cost savings are also nominal.”

Commissioners showed a clear preference toward not pursuing the IGA, with many stating a desire for full transparency as their reason for opposition.

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martin carlino
Martin Carlino

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.

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