Lakefront tops 2012 stories
Lake front ssues topped the news in Wilmette in 2012. Mike Boyer (left) and Patrick Duffy were two Wilmette residents leading the effort for the village to keep a small piece of land it owns that fronts on Lake Michigan. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
Top Web Headlines
• “Suit: Woman dies after multiple plastic surgeries in one day”
• “Winnetka Hubbard Woods teacher placed on administrative leave”
• “ISU: No foul play in deaths of two students, one from Wilmette”
• “Protesters come to CPS officials Winnetka home”
• “Wilmette cottage may find park home”
- Beach has long history, uncertain future
- Action needed on beach property, resident warns
- Elmwood beach to be passive use
- Three lakefront futures open
- Wilmette plans for lakefront’s future
- Wilmette Park Board will not bid on harbor contract
- Parks commissioner joins harbor bid
- Revised hotel proposal nets confusion, but an OK, from Wilmette Plan Commission
- Wilmette resident files suit in hotel development case
- Neighbor ends hotel fight
Updated: April 9, 2013 1:20AM
WILMETTE — In 2012, Wilmette residents’ eyes turned repeatedly to Lake Michigan, as the village and park district considered how to handle beach, lakefront and harbor issues, and got collective earfuls from users of all three.
While some big news arose west of the water — Lockerbie Lane neighbors’ fight against a Marriott hotel development, for instance — this could effectively be considered the Year of the Lakefront.
1. Village converts Elmwood Beach to nature preserve
One of the most contentious lakefront issues in 2012 took place not in front of the Wilmette Park Board, but in Wilmette Village Board chambers, as trustees pondered the future of the property easement reborn this year as Elmwood Beach.
The 80-foot strip of unimproved, village-owned property at the intersection of Michigan and Elmwood Avenues got noticed in 2011, when some open land advocates asked park district and Wilmette officials to return it to some sort of recreational use. Even before Wilmette agreed in 2011 not to vacate the property and sell it to adjoining neighbors, the battle lines were drawn. Neighbors Dennis Chookaszian and Susan and Nick Noyes, wanted to buy the land for $3 million, because they opposed public access. They suffered trespass and vandalism problems from beach users who considered it free and unsupervised access to the lake and worried about users’ safety. Other Michigan Avenue residents agreed.
But other Wilmette residents and area lakefront users pleaded with village trustees – especially Cameron Krueger’s municipal service committee, tasked last spring with researching the issue – to keep Elmwood open.
This summer and fall the board’s committee held several well-attended meetings to craft a policy where the open-or-shut divide aired repeatedly. In November, it recommended that Elmwood Beach become a passive nature preserve. The board agreed Nov. 27, but must still hammer out security regulations and operating rules, which should happen before summer of 2013.
2. District ponders trio of future for Gilson, Langdon parks
Wilmette Park District officials have tried since 2008 to decide how to maintain, upgrade or even expand use of Gillson and Langdon parks. This year a combination of user input and consulting work finally gave them three possible lakefront futures.
The options SmithGroupJJr gave the board in October – to do largely low-impact landscaping and upgrade, to upgrade and expand existing parking and recreation facilities, or to build a hybrid option from those two – aren’t the end of the road but by early this year had already sparked debate among park patrons.
Some, like members of the volunteer Lakefront Commission, opposed most expansion ideas. A few urged the district to make Gilson Park a larger year-round operation. At a December meeting, several admonished park commissioners for not giving the public cost estimates for the options.
That comes next: consultants will take the conceptual options back to the drawing board and make them more specific, complete with cost estimates. Next spring both commissioners and park users will get to review them.
3. District ditches fence, hikes security
Wilmette Park District officials thought last February that they had the right solution to manage the free beach south of its Gillson Park swimming beach. Paying $100,000 to fence it off would prevent people from swimming where there were no lifeguards, and where they did not pay to use park facilities.
But the board reckoned without scores of outraged beach users. Patrons inundated the district with anti-fence petitions and crowded into meetings to oppose the decision, saying fences interfered with basic freedoms and marred beach’s beauty.
In March, the board acceded to anti-fence sentiment. Its plan then became to hike security, allowing people to use the free area and even wade in the lake, but preventing them from swimming there. After a bumpy Memorial Day weekend when the new measures didn’t work as planned, staff revamped them. By the end of the summer, they told park commissioners that “south beach” users were getting used to the new restrictions.
4. Wilmette Harbor management up for bid, debate
The question of who would manage Wilmette Harbor for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District kept Wilmette Park District officials and harbor users guessing in 2012.
A private harbor association managed the harbor for 75 years for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, but learned in 2010 it would have to compete to retain that right after 2012. Association and park district officials couldn’t craft a co-management strategy in 2011, but the revenue potential convinced commissioners last April to pay consultant SmithGroupJJR $45,000 for a harbor condition assessment. They learned in September that the harbor needed $11.7 million in repairs over the next 15 years.
That same month the MWRD called for management bids, but park board President Jim Brault told a room of people, most of them opposed to district involvement, that the cost was too much. In a November coda, board members chastised Commissioner Mike Murdock for not telling them he had joined a group trying to win the bid.
By early December, harbor association officials hadn’t heard from the MWRD who won the bid.
5. Hotel proposal leads to fight, lawsuit
The fight by west Wilmette residents against a proposed Marriott hotel at 3201 Old Glenview Road began in July of 2011, when they first told village officials the six-story 130-unit residency hotel would be too big for the 1.6 acre property.
But in April, 2012, after multiple plan commission and Village Board meetings, Indiana developer White Lodgings Inc. won unanimous zoning approval from village trustees. At the time, Trustee Mike Basil told neighbors “the fact that you perceive your interest is being harmed still can’t overcome the fact that this property is zoned … for more intensive use.”
In May, Lockerbie Lane resident Larry Rogers sued both White Lodging and Wilmette, claiming the decision was “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable.” By November, however, he allowed the suit to be dismissed, citing money and time concerns.
White Lodging had not taken out construction permits for the project by the end of November, village officials said at the time.