Panel backs preserve plan for Elmwood Beach
Village of Wilmette Director of Engineering Brigitte A. Mayerhofer (left) talks with Wilmette Trustee Cameron Krueger about the Elmwood Beach Access Plan on Monday at Wilmette Village Hall. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 9, 2013 1:20AM
WILMETTE — Debate about the future of Elmwood beach has continued since early 2011 when its status as public property became common knowledge.
Some neighbors of the 80-foot-wide property that runs from Elmwood Avenue past Michigan Avenue and down to Lake Michigan, wanted Wilmette to prevent what they called escalating issues of trespass and vandalism on their properties by giving the land to adjacent property owners, or at least restoring a fence to keep people out.
Other residents insisted the land was valuable open beachfront that should be developed for unrestricted public use. In between the two extremes stood a plethora of different opinions.
The Village Board’s municipal services committee, headed by Trustee Cameron Krueger held several well-attended public sessions this summer and fall to craft a potential policy the village could adopt.
Its recommendation – to make the Elmwood Avenue property a passive nature preserve – was scheduled to go to the Village Board Tuesday. It is the culmination of a methodical review process that balanced public opinion with factors of cost, traffic and neighborhood disruption, Krueger said last week.
“This board is driven by a desire to make good decisions quickly,” he said. “Most things in my opinion don’t need years’ of worth of analysis.”
Krueger and his committee had support from Village Engineer Brigitte Mayerhofer and use of a “decision matrix” for their considerations. Via the matrix, they could judge each prospective use by what it might cost, how much it could benefit residents, how it might affect the environment or how it might impact the neighbors.
“The trustees were each able to take the matrix, weight all the criteria, then think through and prioritize each option using those criteria,” Mayerhofer said.
Doing so allowed them to pare down to three more than a dozen possible options offered by residents at the first committee hearing, she and Krueger agreed. Using a matrix to build policy might not be common but “in this case there were so many different variables that played into a final decision that it made sense,” she added. Krueger agreed, calling the matrix innovative.
As a result, village trustees got a seven-page report which, in addition to the official recommendation, outlined the two other original options committee members reviewed and rejected: vacating the land and creating an active beach similar to nearby Gillson or Langdon Beaches.
It went on to include three nature preserve alternatives with design and construction estimates running between $163,000 and $267,000, as well as a possible timeline to complete whatever project the board eventually decides upon. The report also listed public and private funding sources the village could tap to pay those costs.
Both Krueger and Mayerhofer emphasized the role Wilmette residents played in building the recommendation.
“It was very much a citizen-driven process, which makes it, I think, a little unique,” Mayerhofer said.
That reflects a general Village Board belief, Krueger said, that the more opinions and points of view trustees can work with, the more apt they are to make a well-thought-out decision.
“We got good ideas from all over the community,” Krueger said last week. They came from the neighbors in close proximity to the property, from neighbors a little farther away, from people on the west side of the village who might not previously have known that the property existed.
“Nobody owns all the good ideas.”
To view the committee’s final report, visit the Wilmette municipal site at www.wilmette.com/departments/engineering/elmwoodavenue.aspx and click on the link.