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Elder/Centennial beach plans not to bypass Winnetka permit process

The Winnetka Park District Board has decided not to pursue an intergovernmental agreement with the village saying the optics would appear less transparent than going through the entire special use permitting process.

Commissioners considered the idea during the March 7 committee of the whole meeting. Executive Director Shannon Nazzal read a memo from a March 4 meeting with village representatives to discuss the future of replacing a stormwater pipe on Elder Beach. Deciding whether the pipe needs to be replaced has slowed the Park District plans for revamping the beach.

During the March 4 meeting, village representatives said the agreement could help streamline this project through the new village permitting process for projects in the steep slope area of lake bluffs. Under the newly established process, the plans would be reviewed by the Design Review Board, the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Plan Commission before going to Village Council for a final vote. The proposed agreement would have allowed the plans to bypass boards and only be reviewed by Village Council.

Commissioner James Hemmings opposed the idea, saying the community has stressed the need for transparency for years on the project and all discussions going forward should be out in the open.

“I think going through the special use permit process and the zoning commission and the design and review board would provide the public with access into those conversations and make them public,” Board Vice President Eric Lussen said. “I think we need that at this time. Especially for such a potentially impactful project that we’ve been discussing for years … It’s not a backroom deal but I just don’t like the perception that it might be.”

No commissioners spoke in favor of the agreement.

Village President Chris Rintz and Trustee Rob Apatoff informed the Park District the village is embarking on a stormwater study in April that would include the Elder pipe. Results of the study, including the necessary diameter of the Elder pipe, won’t be available until July. The village did state it would like to relocate the stormwater outfall on Elder but did not say where it would be moved.

“That is the village’s timeline,” Board President Christina Codo said. “That gives the Elder plan less certainty in regards to the location although it was discussed and agreed that it was unlikely that the main outflow would move from Elder.”

Codo said there will likely be another meeting with the village before the March 21 meeting where formal approval may be needed.

The board previously directed Park District staff to hold on plans for Elder and focus on Centennial for submission on March 18 when the village’s lakefront construction moratorium ends. Codo said the village has asked for the plan to be presented for permits holistically

The pipe, put in place during the early twentieth century, is currently placed under a dilapidated pier on Elder Beach which was originally planned to be removed as part of the renovations. Previous plans also included the stormwater pipe being moved into the stone breakwater structure at the northern edge of Elder Beach. Plans have since opted to keep the pier, rebuilding it in hope the village and Park District can collaborate to either replace or repair the stormwater pipe.

Elder and Centennial beach renovations have been the center of controversy in the village for years. The Park District had hopes to combine the two beaches but were halted when billionaire Justin Ishbia purchased 261 Sheridan Road, a portion of land in between the two beaches.

A land swap agreement that would see 261 Sheridan given to the Park District in exchange for a similar sized parcel of land at the southern end of Centennial was signed in Oct. 2020. However, no deeds have been swapped and the deal has been deemed dormant by counsel for the Park District and Ishbia.

Plans for the ADA accessible walkway on Centennial have been altered as well in compliance with the village’s steep slope ordinance. The walkway has been moved slightly landward off of bluff area to have less of an impact on the bluff. The retaining walls are also able to be lowered with the new design.

Director of Parks and Maintenance Costa Kutulas said the new design would be less invasive and leave more green space with negligible changes in project costs.