More than 2 dozen homeowners sue Winnetka over lakefront policies

Twenty-five Winnetka lakefront homeowners fulfilled their promise to sue the village government over regulations put in place to protect lake bluffs, claiming the regulations lower property values and limit the ability to develop their properties.

The suit, filed Thursday in Cook County, argues the village’s ordinance is “punitive” and “deprives plaintiffs and other lakefront property owners in Winnetka of the value, use and enjoyment of their bluffs and the lakefront properties for which they paid substantial sums.”

It seeks to have the ordinance deemed invalid by the courts, arguing its approval by the Village Council was arbitrary and unreasonable, and wants a jury trial to determine what compensation is owed to homeowners.

“The village is disappointed that the plaintiffs have taken the step to file this lawsuit,” Winnetka village attorney Peter Friedman said. “The village remains confident in the validity of the ordinance and its regulations and is very comfortable with the very fair, comprehensive and open process that was used to review and adopt it.”

The ordinance, passed in early February, limits what lakefront property owners can construct in the steep slope zone of lake bluffs to prevent failures and protect properties. The vote came after more than a year of research and public conversations spurred by the razing of 3.7 acres of lakefront property and the ongoing construction of billionaire Justin Ishbia’s $43.7 million mansion.

Residents opposed to the ordinance threatened village trustees with a lawsuit, saying they have for years maintained their own properties and kept the bluffs in shape without the need for government intervention.

One such homeowner is Mandy Day, who is part of the group that filed the lawsuit. She bought her home on the lakefront over a year ago but said if she knew this legislation was coming, she would’ve bought a home in another town.

Village President Chris Rintz said despite this, there needed to be steps taken to prevent another property such as Ishbia’s from happening again.

“If the position is no ordinance is the only solution then don’t waste my time,” he said at the Feb. 6 meeting. “We’re a community that talks about these things and tries to find a good middle ground that everyone can live with. You may not walk away happy but at least the person that you were in opposition with isn’t walking away happy either.”