Winnetka, News

Judge denies Winnetka Park District’s attempt to dismiss new property-exchange lawsuit

A revived lawsuit against the Winnetka Park District may proceed, a Cook County judge ruled on Tuesday.

Circuit Court Judge Eve Reilly denied the park district’s attempt to dismiss resident Robert Schriesheim’s suit that claims the district jeopardized public land when it agreed to swap parcels with property owner Justin Ishbia in 2020.

In her court order, Reilly said the district failed to prove its claim that the new property owner would definitively maintain the public’s right to the land.

The suit is scheduled to appear again in court on June 6 in a teleconference via Zoom.

“We are pleased the judge rejected the Winnetka Park District’s efforts to dismiss the lawsuit, allowing the case to proceed on its merits,” Schriesheim said in a statement. “We have said all along that the park
district’s 2020 exchange agreement, proposing to give part of Centennial Park to a private party, violated the public trust doctrine. We are hopeful Tuesday’s ruling will lead to an outcome beneficial to taxpayers whose best interests were swept aside during a process that lacked transparency, accountability and fairness.”

Park district officials declined to comment on the ruling, citing the ongoing nature of the proceedings.

How we got here

Schriesheim filed an original lawsuit in October 2022 against the district and its property exchange agreement with Ishbia — an agreement that enabled the district to acquire Ishbia’s 261 Sheridan Road property between Elder and Centennial parks and give up a portion on the southern edge of Centennial. The exchange would allow the district contiguous beachfront property.

Schriesheim claimed the agreement violated the Illinois Park District Code by swapping land of unequal value and the public trust doctrine by conveying land that belongs to the public.

A year later, in October 2023, Reilly dismissed the suit and, as reported by The Record, ruled the district’s land appraisals that informed the exchange agreement were fair and timely and that Schriesheim’s team failed to prove the park district acted “arbitrarily or without reason” when it swapped public-trust land.

Reilly’s dismissal did not allow for a refiling of the claims related to the appraisals; however, it kept open the possibility for adjusted claims associated with the public trust doctrine. Schriesheim followed through on his promise to refocus his lawsuit on his public-trust argument.

What’s up with the property exchange today?

For three years the agreement drew skepticism within the community, much of it linked to initial beach-improvement plans that impacted access to and views of the lakefront.

The agreement is stuck in limbo partly because of Schriesheim’s lawsuit, but also, in 2023, it was called “dormant” when Ishbia announced a desire to donate $3 million to the Winnetka Park District’s lakefront plans. Amid controversy and with a split vote, the Park Board accepted the donation with conditions in January.

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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