Winnetka, Northfield, Kenilworth Leaders Talk 'State Of Villages'

·8 min read

NEW TREIR TOWNSHIP, IL — Despite the unprecedented burden that the events of 2020 have put on local governments, leaders of a trio of North Shore communities expressed optimism Tuesday about the state of their towns heading into next year.

The presidents and village managers of Kenilworth, Northfield and Winnetka appeared Thursday at an online "State of the Villages" presentation convened by the local chapter of the League of Women Voters.

The local leaders touted their accomplishments during the past 11 months and their plans for 2021. The annual event is usually held in person with tea and snacks on offer. In the past, organizers from the Winnetka-Northfield-Kenilworth League of Women Voters have been able to collect checks for donations to the New Trier Township and Northfield Township food pantries. League representatives encouraged the public to donate online or by the mail amid the pandemic, which has dramatically increased demand for nutrition assistance.

Find a summary below from each town, or listen to full audio of the event.

KENILWORTH

Most of the village's top priorities for next year revolve around water, according to Village Manager Patrick Brennan and Village President Ann Potter.

The second phase of a sewer system and fire hydrant improvement system is set to take place in 2021, with work planned on Leicester, Raleigh and Warwick roads in an effort to provide better stormwater relief to all village residents south of Kenilworth Avenue.

"The other big issue going forward for us in 2021 is going to be dealing with shoreline protection, giving the high lake levels, and how we will develop an over-arching program for the entire lakefront, which would also include the water plant which has been mothballed for several years now," Potter said. "We feel that we're going to take the whole lakefront and develop a plan that's inclusive of both the shoreline and the water plant."

The Kenilworth water plant at 1 Kenilworth Ave. is located at the village's only public beach. (Google Maps)
The Kenilworth water plant at 1 Kenilworth Ave. is located at the village's only public beach. (Google Maps)

Other plans for next year, which will be the 125th anniversary of Kenilworth's incorporation, include an initiative to enlist the support of the public to plan 125 trees throughout the village. Residents would help pay for the program, and the new trees would be planted on both public and private property.

Potter said the coronavirus pandemic has coincided with an influx of younger families moving into the village. In response, village officials plan to "spruce up the business district" and come up with other ideas to appeal to the village's newer residents.

"While they are moving to Kenilworth for the same reasons that generations have, they do have a new set of criteria that they are looking for from their village," she said. "What we've learned is that this includes, first and foremost, walkability, which we think we are perfectly designed for, as well as community-based local activities and then additionally local businesses providing services."

NORTHFIELD

Village President Joan Frazier said she has been lobbying state and federal lawmakers for months to pass some form of relief for small businesses especially hard-hit by restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19. Northfield has so far seen one business, a dance studio, shutter during the pandemic and has the lowest commercial vacancy rate in the Chicagoland area, according to village staff.

Frazier pointed out that only about $58,000 of the nearly $5 billion in federal coronavirus relief money has trickled down to the village. That funding is restricted and cannot be used to support local businesses, she said.

"This raises questions about what is government for? What is the purpose of our federal and state governments, if not to step in at times like these? And we all know that Washington is at loggerheads, and I've just done what I can to work to encourage all of our representatives, be they state or federal, to step up and please attempt to get something done for our business," Frazier said. "It's not only the businesses as businesses, it's the employees who work there. People who rely on their salaries and tips, they're having a tough time, so I hope to see some progress on this point."

Since the spring, Village Manager Stacy Sigman said staff had completed a review of the village code, secured approval long-sought plan to allow for the missing link in the Skokie Valley Trail, and signed off on a new comprehensive plan to ensure the town "grows strategically" and to guide village boards and commissions in shaping future development.

"This is a process that's gone on for two years, and is a culmination of extensive outreach and public engagement with both our residents and our businesses," Sigman said.

A rendering shows a new bank branch expected to be completed in January 2021 on Willow Road. (Village of Northfield)
A rendering shows a new bank branch expected to be completed in January 2021 on Willow Road. (Village of Northfield)

The code update is expected to be formally adopted in January. That same month, the new Wintrust Bank branch at 1852 Willow Road is scheduled to be complete.

The village has also received approval from the Illinois Department of Transportation for the first phase of the South Happ Road improvement project between Willow and Winnetka roads and secured funding for the second and third phase of the program. The project will improve parking lot access, connectivity between the village's east and west side, and include a roundabout that will "go a long way to creating a unique sense of space in the downtown and establish that you're somewhere."

WINNETKA

Village Manager Rob Bahan touted the village's conservative budgeting. For the seventh year in a row, the village has managed to avoid raising its share of its residents' property tax bill, he said.

"The village has tried very hard to maximize our existing resources while still making significant investments in our infrastructure, our business districts and maintaining high levels of service to our residents," Bahan said.

The village manager praised the work of State Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston) to secure a $12 million grant from the Rebuild Illinois infrastructure program for the regional Cook County wetland project and $16 million for regional intergovernmental stormwater management projects with New Trier and the park district.

In addition, the village managed to free up $7 million in additional infrastructure funding by refinancing old loans. Bahan said more than $70 million in funding for the local stormwater projects was secured without having to raise fees or taxes.

Bahan also pointed to support for local businesses and efforts to recruit new ones to the village. Since August, village staff have provided about $290,000 in sales tax rebates out of the $375,000 set aside for the program. More than 75 businesses have received the funding, and trustees are set to consider additional support for local restaurants next week.

"While we lost a few businesses, we also gained several more," he said, recounting new businesses that have opened in recent months.

At least two new restaurants are also planning to open next year, according to the village manager. They include new uses for the Savocchi Glass Co. building at 844 Spruce St as well as the former Boris' Cafe site at 972 Green Bay Road.

Winnetka Village Manager Rob Bahan said new restaurants are being planned for Green Bay Road and Spruce Street. (Google Maps)
Winnetka Village Manager Rob Bahan said new restaurants are being planned for Green Bay Road and Spruce Street. (Google Maps)

Village President Chris Rintz said Winnetka's comprehensive plan was set to get its first substantial review since 1993, but an update has been postponed until after the coronavirus pandemic recedes.

Rintz said progress on a foreclosure lawsuit involving the failed downtown One Winnetka project had been delayed, in part, because the project's Canadian lender required the matter to be heard in federal court. After developer David Trandel defaulted on his development agreement with the village, trustees repealed the deal in August 2019. The case has been in the courts ever since.

"At this point, we're hoping that that whole legal mess with sort itself out in the first quarter and maybe we'll be looking at a new owner in 2021," Rintz said.

While acknowledging that many people have suffered as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the village president also pointed to some of its positive side effects, which he said included a stronger sense of family and community.

"I have never seen more families together, as units, walking through the village as I ever have in my almost 30 years here," Rintz said.

"People having impromptu block parties — socially distanced — sitting out on the parkway with their lawn chairs 6 feet apart enjoying a little bottle of wine, or some popcorn and soda for the kids. And I do feel as though this pandemic has brought us together in a lot of ways that might not have otherwise been available to us," he added.

"Hopefully, in the months to come, as we finally start to turn the corner on this, we'll all remember how good it felt to connect with our neighbors, our friends and our families as we weathered the storm together, and try to keep a little bit of that spirit alive for the future."

This article originally appeared on the Winnetka-Glencoe Patch

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