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HomeNewsNavigating the Balance Between Bluff Protection and Property Rights: Winnetka Council's Endeavor

Navigating the Balance Between Bluff Protection and Property Rights: Winnetka Council’s Endeavor

Winnetka officials are facing a wave of challenges as they craft potential regulations and zoning amendments for developments related to properties along the lakefront. Trustees dedicated three-plus hours of a Wednesday, Sept. 12 study session to reviewing and discussing how one can regulate, if in any respect, future developments on or near the bluffs of Lake Michigan. Winnetka’s Village Council first explored the problem earlier this yr during a January session when officials reviewed what’s allowed under Winnetka’s current zoning regulations on lakefront properties and what other North Shore communities may allow on lakefront properties that contain bluffs, as previously reported by The Record. The council’s deep dive into potential recent development regulations was largely prompted by the continuing substantial project involving lakefront land owned by Justin Ishbia along Sheridan Road. As previously reported by The Record, Ishbia and his family are combining 4 Sheridan Road lots and razing three structures and constructing one massive property across the stretch of land. While trustees struggled on Sept. 12 to succeed in a transparent conclusion and supply village staff with definitive direction, the council members did agree on what many members described as a desire to “close the gaps” in Winnetka’s zoning ordinance related to lakefront developments. Much of what trustees attributed because the “gap” in Winnetka’s zoning regulations along the lakefront pertains to property lines and their correlation to the water’s edge and an existing lack of bluff regulation. The event at 205 Sheridan Road, spearheaded by the Ishbia family, found a option to utilize these gaps, allowing a project with what trustees would consider unfavorable circumstances, including a big scale, noticeable neighborhood impact and fewer desirable treatment of the bluff to proceed forward. “The very fact of the matter, as evidenced by what has gone on up to now six months or so, is now we have a gaping hole within the zoning (ordinance),” Trustee Bob Dearborn said. “What happened down there’s a catalyst for these conversations,” Dearborn added. “We will’t ignore it. … We have now been presented with a problem that may be a gap in our process. I feel we want to repair it.” Trustee Rob Apatoff shared similar sentiments, noting the village is “the last line of defense for safeguarding the shoreline.” “It wasn’t a spot, it was a spot that you could possibly drive a truck through in our ordinance with what happened at 205,” Apatoff said. “I feel some common sense revisions will help us get there without penalizing the folks that we don’t need to penalize, which is a lot of the lakefront owners.” The conundrum that Apatoff highlighted was the quintessential query that trustees grappled with all evening: How do they develop regulations that prioritize good stewardship of the environment and curb potentially eco-harming lakefront development, like 205 Sheridan, while also remaining true to Winnetka’s long-standing commitment to property owners’ rights? Council member Kirk Albinson offered a summation of that quandary toward the top of the discussion, giving staff some direction on the board’s feelings while also noting the issue and care needed to maneuver forward. “Possibly the challenge to staff, to maintain it super vague and difficult, is how can we create an environment where we’re truly leaving it higher than we found it and what would that entail,” he said. “And that’s really high-level conceptual pondering but that’s where my head is at. “I feel that appeases all parties. We’re satisfying truly being good stewards to the environment but additionally attempting to stay true to the true tune of who Winnetka is and focused on property rights and I feel that’s something everyone can embrace.” The council seemingly shifted from a more hard-lined mindset regarding lakeshore development than it expressed in the course of the January session toward a more nuanced and open view in the course of the Tuesday meeting. But it surely’s also clear there are some discrepancies amongst trustees regarding the scope of the regulations. Several board members noted a desire to completely halt certain undesirable bluff treatments like what occurred with the 205 Sheridan development, but others noted that might encroach on property owners’ rights so long as any work done on or near the bluff is completed fully to code and with sound engineering. “I don’t think any of those regulations are needed,” Winnetka trustees also heard from several lakefront property owners, all of whom expressed sharp opposition to more regulations along the shore. “I don’t think any of those regulations are needed,” said resident John A. Edwardson, who lives on Sheridan Road. “In viewing how all of this originated … it looks like a lot of the motion driving this has been coming from individuals who don’t live to tell the tale the lake fairly than those that do live to tell the tale the lake.” Edwardson, together with several of his neighbors, argued that lakefront property owners have been excellent stewards of the lake and have spent significant resources to guard the bluffs. “I feel if there have been really big issues on the lake, you’d have been hearing about them from neighbors of people who find themselves causing those big issues,” he said. “The homeowners have been spending the cash. We’ve protected the bluffs, and we predict we’ve done a reasonably good job. We don’t think we want any more regulation from you to proceed to do the job to maintain our properties secure.” Leann Pope, who also lives on Sheridan, asked the council to be specific about its purpose with regulations if it plans on moving forward. “While I understand that each one of this got began due to the Ishiba property, steep slope regulations will not be going to undo that harm,” she said. Much like Edwardson, Pope detailed the strong stewardship of the present property owners. “I don’t know of any lakefront owners who haven’t been good stewards to their property,” she said. “I even have seen the protections which have gone up. I even have seen the revetments. I even have seen the tens of millions spent. I even have spent the tens of millions of dollars to guard property. And once you go up and down the shore, perhaps among the homes aren’t to your liking, but they’re protecting the bluffs. And this village, many, a few years ago — generations ago — decided that the vast majority of the lakefront property in Winnetka goes to be the responsibility of personal homeowners.” Pope concluded by asking the council to shut gaps with a deal with the protection of adjoining properties. “If there are gaps in our existing rules and regulations, engineering gaps, safety, and soundness gaps, then those needs to be filled,” she said. “But for the aim of protecting adjoining property, not for the aim of attempting to impose on lakefront homeowners an environment in a way that you just’d wish to see it change.” Finding a balance Winnetka Village President Chris Rintz distanced himself from much of the early discussion regarding a path forward, allowing his fellow trustees to guide the conversation. But Rintz offered his thoughts toward the top of the session, noting an identical desire to strike a balance between property owners’ rights and stopping similar developments like 205 Sheridan. “There are two sides to this actually,” Rintz said, noting that the challenge is “trying to seek out that sweet spot where we are able to actually do what’s crucial to not have 205 occur again” while concurrently keeping in mind that the council doesn’t “need to crap everywhere in the individuals who have lived down there and who’ve been doing a beautiful job without end.” Rintz noted that if trustees are too broad in developing an ordinance, it may lead to unexpected instances of limiting developments that weren’t meant to be limited. He prompted his peers to work toward more “focused, targeted, and specific” priorities. Village staff will deal with exploring ways so as to add more context “on numerous zoning issues,” Village Manager Rob Bahan said. “There are loads of challenges to process after tonight,” he said. “In fact, we’ll take a take a look at all of the potential options.” Winnetka has long upheld less stringent regulations for developments along the lakefront than its neighbors. A portion of Tuesday’s session was dedicated to reviewing steep slope regulations within the neighboring communities of Glencoe and Kenilworth. Trustees made it clear they may look to their neighbors’ ordinances for guidance and best practices, however it’s still a priority to keep up property owners’ rights. The Record is a nonprofit, nonpartisan community newsroom that relies on reader support to fuel its independent local journalism. Subscribe to The Record to fund responsible news coverage on your community. Already a subscriber? You possibly can make a tax-deductible donation at any time.

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