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HomeNewsWinnetka's Proposed Regulations Include Restrictions on Lot Consolidation and Building Near Bluffs

Winnetka’s Proposed Regulations Include Restrictions on Lot Consolidation and Building Near Bluffs

Winnetka trustees proceed to inch closer to specific regulations on beachfront development.

The Village Council met for a study session on Tuesday, Nov. 14, to again discuss the subject it has been workshopping for nearly a yr.

Trustees agreed to maneuver forward with a stricter review of lot consolidations, while requesting more information on potential measurements to define lot boundaries and bluffs — or steep slopes.

Village President Chris Rintz said he expects the discussion to proceed in January, giving Village staff time to gather information and draft documents while also navigating the vacation season.

The council’s deep dive into its role in lakefront development was largely prompted by the continuing, substantial project by property owner Justin Ishbia. As previously reported by The Record, Ishbia and his family have combined 4 Sheridan Road lots and razed three structures to construct one massive property across the stretch of the land at 205 Sheridan Road.

Trustees have lamented that their control over the event was limited by “gaps” within the Village’s zoning regulations that allowed for the unique project. In a previous study session, on Sept. 12, Trustee Bob Dearborn said, “What happened down there’s a catalyst for these conversations. We will’t ignore it. … Now we have been presented with a difficulty that may be a gap in our process. I believe we’d like to repair it.” 

On Nov. 14, the conversation included more specificity. The council worked off village staff findings and suggestions that were included in a pre-session report.

Trustees spent minimal time discussing the further regulation of lot consolidation. They supported staff’s suggestion to require large lot consolidations to acquire a special-use permit. In line with the proposal, a request that might greater than double the general size (square footage) or width of the minimum zoning requirements, which vary between residential districts, must file for a special use permit. Special use requests go before the Plan Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals and Village Council.

Village President Chris Rintz, responding to a resident’s query, said multi-lot consolidation can change the character of a neighborhood, a consequence the Village hopes to avoid.

“In case you were to purchase 4 or five lots and mix them into one and also you built a ten,000- or 12,000-square-foot house in a neighborhood of three,000-square-foot houses, it will devour the block face … very similar to the Ishbia property,” he said. “While you mix five lots together, it gave him the power to construct a really, very, very large structure. So by limiting the quantity of land that could be combined together in a buildable parcel, you’re fundamentally also controlling the scale of what may ultimately go there once you do this combination.”

The conversation centering bluff protection was more nuanced.

The Village is hoping to regulate its lakeside lot boundary, which is the start line for any setback regulation. In current code language, the boundary is defined because the water’s edge, which officials say changes often, making it difficult to control.

As a substitute, the Village is exploring using the Army Corps of Engineers Abnormal High Water Mark, a measurement of 581 1/2 feet elevation that has not modified since 1992. The OHWM, nonetheless, can be unique to every property and should be impacted by erosion, in keeping with village documents.

Trustees requested more information on the OHWM and other possible boundary markers, which might impact where development could begin on the lot and thus, protect beachfront, potentially to incorporate bluffs.

As for protections for the bluffs themselves, the Village desires to base its enhanced regulations on the Village of Glencoe’s steep slope ordinance, “which limits construction to certain structures similar to stairs, decks, boathouses on and near the steep slope of the bluff subject to meeting geotechnical and structural engineering standards,” in keeping with the meeting memo.

The memo continues, “The Council also expressed an interest in having the steep slope regulations promote best practices to make sure the preservation and addition of native vegetation for bluff stability, while promoting the removal of non-native species, which don’t provide bluff stability, in addition to invasive species.”

Winnetka’s ordinance would discover areas which are impactful to a property’s bluffs and protect them. In line with a Village study, dozens of structures and amenities — from boathouses to walkways — currently in place on Winneka lakefront properties wouldn’t be allowed under a steep-slope ordinance. The study shows 79% of Winnetka’s lakefront homes have walkways or steps that might be nonconforming. Village staff says if an ordinance is put in place the structures could remain and be labeled “legally non-conforming.”

That isn’t to say no development can be allowed in steep-slope zones. The ordinance would require special-use permits and “exceptional engineering,” or advanced data, to proceed with certain construction. Applicants would wish to satisfy numerous requirement and standards, similar to providing subsoil reports, grading plans, vegetation plans, and more.

Winnetka resident Cynthia Hara, who lives along the lakefront, didn’t necessarily oppose the added regulations but requested the council consider the great intentions of beachfront property owners.

“If you find yourself the owner of a property especially on the lakefront, the first thing you wish to do as you’re constructing on it’s you wish to protect it,” she said. ” … The reality of it’s, because I went through it, once you do it properly, when you may have structural engineers … they take great pains to do things precisely.

Hara added, “I do know not everyone can survive the lake; there’s not enough property, but I wish everyone could since it’s a blessing. Those of us who do survive the lake, we respect it, we care for it, we’re its caretaker, and we put our trust in all of you once you’re making these rules that you simply’ll consider us and the way we live there too.” 

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