It is still far too early to predict the eventual fate of a narrow strip of village-owned right-of-way that supporters want to turn back into Elmwood Park Beach, but it has apparently avoided one possibility: Being sold to its neighbors.
Wilmette Village Board President Chris Canning announced last week that the village won’t vacate the 80-foot-wide right-of-way that extends east to the lakefront from the intersection of Elmwood and Michigan avenues.
Doing so would have allowed Wilmette to sell the land to the owners of lots north and south of the strip, a strategy village officials had explored earlier this year in private talks with both property owners.
Wilmette residents who support turning the right-of-way into some form of public-access beach — a purpose it appears to have historically served early in the 20th century before falling out of use over the past several decades — have lobbied the village this year against selling the land. They also have asked the Wilmette Park District to consider working with the village to redevelop the land for public use.
In fact, Canning’s statement at last week’s Village Board meeting came only minutes after a group of beach backers presented the board with copies of one landscaping plan for a passive beach area that the plan’s creator said might cost as little as $25,000 to complete.
Canning’s statement was both cautious — he emphasized that the village’s options for developing the land are limited legally and economically — and guardedly hopeful.
“It does present the potential for a meaningful public amenity,” he said, before pointing out that the land also could become “a significant public nuisance, depending on the choices made.”
The property’s status as a right-of-way limits what Wilmette can do with it, Canning warned listeners. Although the village owns it, the property doesn’t have the same status as other pieces of village land, such as those on which Village Hall or the police station are built.
Additionally, the village has extremely limited money with which to develop the land, he said, noting that “these are tough economic times.”
When beach supporters earlier presented their landscape plan to the board, Canning quizzed its creator, Wilmette architect James O’Brien, about how much it would cost to turn his plan into reality.
The plan, which O’Brien said was just a concept, envisioned a simple foot path from Michigan Avenue to the beach, as well as plantings on the property’s perimeters to separate it from property on either side. It also featured items like a small monument with historical information about the beach and possibly a small foot-bridge to allow the path to pass over low-lying sections of land.
O’Brien was hesitant initially to assign a cost, and said he thought a price tag for the village could prove almost non-existent with enough volunteer help, and if corporate or other grants and donations could be found. He eventually gave Canning an estimate of “anywhere from zero to $25,000 to get us cleaned up there … maybe with the help of village crews.”
“You’re saying it would probably be a five-figure number, not a six-figure number,” Canning said.
“Yes,” O’Brien replied.
Informal talks between Canning and James Brault, his counterpart at the Wilmette Park District, have already taken place, Canning said.
The two men plan to speak again soon, to discuss the next, very preliminary, step in determining the property’s future. One item on their agenda could be the possibility of creating a joint village-Park District committee that could tackle the issue and take input from the community, Canning said.
Steve Wilson, the Park District’s executive director, said Monday he does not believe Brault and Canning have yet been able to set their next meeting date.