Winnetka trustees seek business district improvements
Some Winnetka trustees claim sights, such as electrical tape wrapped around a light pole, detract from the village's downtown areas and is unfair to high property-tax paying residents and business owners. | Kimberly Fornek~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 24, 2012 8:44AM
Although sewer improvements continue to be the Winnetka Village Council’s top priority, the need to fix up the village’s business districts are not far behind on some council members’ list of priorities.
“I almost broke my ankle today, in front of Caribou (Coffee shop),” Village Trustee Jennifer Spinney said last week. “My foot went into a hole. Why do we have these holes in our streets? I’m embarrassed. I’m scared about lawsuits and the safety of our residents and our visitors. It’s just a village embarrassment.”
Trustee Christopher Rintz agreed.
“Our village deserves better than that.”
“If people don’t look, they don’t see,” Rintz said, what he does as he walks through the village’s retail districts: broken sidewalks, light fixtures from the 1970s with extension cords taped to them.
The condition of the downtown areas does not reflect Winnetka’s home values, “the highest average sales price in the entire Chicagoland area,”
Rintz said. “We get a lot of transferees in Winnetka,” people who come to the area because of a job change and want to live in Winnetka so their children will be in the New Trier Township High School District, he said.
“They are completely stupefied by what they see in our downtown,” Rintz said.
Their comments came as the council reviewed the village budget for the next fiscal year, and specifically the public works budget on Feb. 16. They also recalled the streetscape plan of a few years ago, which called for an extensive facelift of both the East and West Elm and Hubbard Woods business districts. That project was dropped after 68 percent of voters said no to it in an advisory referendum in 2010.
Public Works Director Steve Saunders is allocating nearly $1.28 million for street and sidewalk repairs, but that would be mainly in residential areas, the Pine Tree Lane area, Euclid Avenue on the south and Elder Lane on the east.
He proposed budgeting $250,000 for the business district revitalization fund, for deferred repairs to village sidewalks, “to keep the business districts livable and usable,” and to pay for a consultant to evaluate the downtown areas.
Village Manager Robert Bahan planned to give the trustees information about Urban Land Institute, which does research and education on land use and property development, at the council’s meeting Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Saunders needs direction on the extent of improvements the council wants.
“We can’t continue to piecemeal these things together, because I can’t keep up with it,” Saunders said.
Trustee Richard Kates sees “no reason to defer any maintenance and there’s no reason to slop it up when it is done.” Curbs are missing in spots and replacing them should not wait for a comprehensive downtown overhaul. The village has sufficient reserves to pay for capital improvements, that’s what reserves are for, Kates said.
“Those reserves are not sitting there so people can pay double for stormwater (improvements).”
Kates suggested the council take a walking tour of the business district to assess the situation firsthand.
Trustee Arthur Braun seconded the urgency expressed by other council members.
“Something has to be done and it has to be done fairly quickly,” Braun said. “Brokers don’t bring new tenants to the village. There’s nothing appealing about it and there’s no foot traffic. Do we have to start boarding up the downtown?”
He suggested the village “take some money and replace all the pavers.”
Saunders recommends the village replace some pavers and all the brick crosswalks with more durable materials.
“Brick crosswalks have been exceptionally maintenance intensive ever since we put them in,” Saunders said. He suggests 5-foot or 6-foot concrete squares and clay or concrete pavers. Clay pavers are “much denser than concrete pavers and hold up better.”
Recognizing the need to improve drainage, the village also could consider permeable pavers, which are a “little bit more expensive to install,”
Saunders said. They have not been widely used long enough for him to be familiar with their durability.
Rintz said durable materials with “an interesting architectural pattern,” would be fine, but the village should not stop there. He favors “a wholesale repair of the area” . . . to bring the village into the 21st century.”
“Our residents deserve (village investment in public property) that supports the real estate investment we made in our homes,” Rintz said.