Many of you have shared your concerns regarding the project proposed by the Winnetka Park District at Elder and Centennial Parks. As part of their application to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), the Park District included a request to build a privacy screen at the southern terminus of the newly configured public beach. The Village, along with other State and Federal officials, provided letters of general support, which were included in the Winnetka Park District submittal to IDNR. I would like to take the opportunity to provide clarity on the Village’s position on these matters.
The Village has long supported the connection of Elder and Centennial. This goal was included in the 2020 Comprehensive Plan (published in 1999) and will most likely be reflected in the 2040 update which is currently being developed by our Plan Commission. The letter of support did not require Village Council action, as it is stating support for a vision that has been promoted broadly over the past few decades, and is contained within the Village’s primary policy document – the Comprehensive Plan.
It is common practice for taxing agencies to seek support letters for applications and petitions from other governmental agencies. Typically, the requesting agency will create a template outlining the project goals, which is modified by each responder. This case was no different. Since these letters are more general in nature, they usually don’t include a vigorous review of all the components, as those items are trusted to the elected officials that are charged with making those decisions. If you review the letters of support, they make no mention of any sort of “wall,” but express support conceptually for the overall vision of the plan. I do not believe that any of the agencies who provided such letters contemplated ceding to the demands of a private property owner seeking unfair advantage – I know the Village did not.
I trust the process we are now navigating, and ask that you do, too. The Winnetka Park District is fortunate to have thoughtful Commissioners who have spent much time planning this project. Members of our community are making their voices heard on the issue, and I have faith that the Board will listen, consider all the commentary, and use it to guide their decisions. Civility in disagreement is foremost when having these discussions, and I am hoping that we can allow the process to work. As long as we conduct these conversations in a fact-based, non-confrontational manner, we will get to the right place.
It is unfortunate that a single property owner has chosen to promote a change in the plan beyond what was agreed upon. As originally crafted, the property swap is an outstanding opportunity to help realize a vision promoted for decades. It is easy to vilify someone for asking for more, but it is hoped that the current dialogue will help this new resident understand the passion and concern regarding the Public Trust Doctrine, and Winnetka Park District can move forward with a plan that reflects the desires of the community.
I know the Park District Board did not seek this out, but now the issue is firmly in their purview to resolve. They are volunteers, neighbors, and friends, just like you, and are trying to do the right thing. Share your thoughts kindly and support them as they work to find the best answer for the entire community and bring about a positive change on our lakefront.