Although some commissioners appeared willing Monday to vote a seasonal outdoor Thornwood Park ice rink into existence, Wilmette’s Park District board has agreed to postpone any decision on the proposal until a special Sept. 26 meeting.
That will give the board more time to consider a deluge of comments and questions they got from residents, including dozens who spoke Monday on everything from light pole placement and flooding potential at Thornwood to the possibility of alternate sites, such as Howard or Gillson parks.
The idea of an outdoor rink at Thornwood has been discussed at board committees since January, in the wake of the board’s 2010 decision to get rid of an outdoor rink at West Park because it wasn’t being used enough. However, an Aug. 31 letter from the Park Board outlining the proposal in advance of Monday’s meeting raised the ire of neighbors last week.
The resulting furor has already resulted in changes to the initial proposal, board President Jim Brault told the sizable audience.
The district has responded to more than 45 letters, e-mails and phone calls from Thornwood neighbors and residents across Wilmette by including a smaller rink surface, time for recreational skating — the original proposal designated the rink for “pickup” hockey only — and temporary light poles that would be removed after the season, which Brault said would run only between Dec. 15 to March 15.
“It was very clear to us that residents do not want permanent light poles, and the proposal we’d like you to consider would be removed at the end of each season,” Brault said.
Any further changes, based on more public input, would be available for public perusal on the district’s website by next week, he promised, giving people at least a week’s chance to view them before the Sept. 26 meeting. Area neighbors could also get more correspondence on changes, district Director Steve Wilson suggested on Tuesday.
Commissioners Mike Murdock, Gary Benz and new board member John Olvany said they wanted more time to explore issues residents raised. And while Commissioners Shelley Shelly and James Crowley supported the rink, they were willing to postpone the vote, as was fellow rink supporter Commissioner Darrell Graham.
Neighbors like Kenilworth Avenue resident Caryn Summer, who presented the board with a petition against the rink, pleaded with the board not to vote on the proposal Monday. She was one of 31 people who spoke at the meeting, and one of only a few who were publicly neither for nor against the rink.
“Are there competing interests and needs (in this issue)? Most definitely,” Summer said. “But I believe we can arrive at a solution that is good for the entire community.”
Roughly a third of the speakers Monday told the park board they definitely opposed placing a rink at Thornwood, while the rest either supported the idea as a draw for healthy outdoor youth and family activities, or indicated they might be willing to live with a rink under certain conditions.
Chief among those appeared to be limiting the time lights are allowed to shine at Thornwood.
Most park neighbors said they opposed lights at the park, or wanted them turned off before 8 p.m. most nights, and perhaps an hour later on weekends. Nearly all of them rejected the 10 p.m. turn off that exists at Wilmette’s other outdoor rinks, at Mallinckrodt and Gillson parks.
They also worried about how the rink would affect flooding, which many said is already a regular problem there.
“It’s frequently flooded and covered with ice in the winter, so there’s already a drainage problem there,” Thornwood Avenue resident Steven Ducommun said. “I think you’re just going to exacerbate the problem.”
Fellow Thornwood resident Karen Tobey agreed.
“My kids call the park ‘Lake Thornwood,’” she told the board.
Tobey also opposed lights, calling them a “deal-breaker” for her.
Dianne Schaffner said lights would reflect off the rink and area snow into her Thornwood Avenue home. She also worried about traffic, about how the district would maintain the rink and where it would store snow cleared from the rink surface, and asked where rink users would find rest rooms.
Opponents argued that the board should place the rink at Howard, Gillson or West parks, where rink space and lighting already exist, and which would not have as many potential parking problems. Supporters often said that those parks were too out of the way for unstructured skating and hockey to take place.
Both sides touted Thornwood’s neighborhood feel as a reason for, and against, having a rink.
Some speakers were cautious, but not overly negative about the plan.
Elmwood Avenue resident Dave Thomas, who is involved with Wilmette baseball programs, asked that any rink be placed to minimize or eliminate possible bad effects on the park’s ball fields, adding, “I’m not saying kids can’t play hockey there, but the baseball fields won’t be affecting the rink, so the rink should not affect the baseball fields.”
“I have very mixed feelings about this,” Thornwood resident Kirsten Engel said. “I think everyone has legitimate points. So I wonder if a possibility wouldn’t be to try this for a year and then those of us who use the park on a regular basis could you input.”
“I want to support this,” Thornwood resident Gary Schotz said, but he wanted the board to consider his concerns about noise, snow removal and traffic patterns.
Rink supporters came from across Wilmette, but also from the Thornwood neighborhood, although most who lived closer to the park urged the board to consider size and lighting restrictions to get that support.
Colgate Avenue resident Marshall Kay called the proposal “great … I would be able to see the lights, but that’s no problem, if you shut them down early, like by 9 o’clock.”
Beechwood Avenue resident John Staley said he would like his children to be able to walk two or three blocks to Thornwood to play hockey, and even supported a larger size rink.
Greenwood Avenue resident Steve Carlson said he’d like his children to be able to use the rink for hockey and recreational skating; he urged the board to ask neighbors of other rinks what concerns they might have.
And Greenleaf Avenue resident Don Chapman praised the idea of having the rink at Thornwood because of the park’s “Rockwellian feel.”
“I think people looking to buy (homes) near Thornwood in the winter time would be affected positively,” by having the rink there, Chapman said.
At least two park neighbors said the district’s revisions have changed their initial opposition to the project.
“I think the toned-down version of (the rink) would be a lot of fun,” Colgate resident Sherri Ramsey said. “I think my kids would love it. But I want you to understand that lights are a big issue for me.”
Thornwood resident Dan Zelazny said he had originally opposed the rink, but now supported revised plans.
“I think Thornwood is a wonderful park, but in winter it’s a frozen tundra. A lot of people go out in the two days after a snowfall, but after that, it’s dead,” he said, adding that neighborhood children who attend nearby Harper School would benefit from the rink. But he wanted lights on no later than 7:30 p.m. on weeknights and slightly later on the weekends.