WINNETKA – The Winnetka Village Council reviewed a proposed streetscape and signage design plan for the Elm Street business district presented by the Downtown Master Plan Task Force and consultants Teska Associates at its meeting on April 3.
Council members directed the task force to brainstorm options to implement the plan in smaller phases, while keeping in mind cost and minimizing parking loss.
The streetscape and signage plan, which was put together by the Task Force and Teska with input from the community, seeks to revitalize the Elm Street shopping area with updated lighting, signs that direct shoppers to parking, stores and events, as well as encourage people to linger. The plan also addresses necessary roadway and drainage issues.
The cost of the plan is estimated at $9 million, with $8.6 million going to streetscape updates and $400,000 toward signage. The estimates could potentially be lower, if One Winnetka is constructed as promised and covers the cost of landscaping and sidewalk updates surrounding the building, as well as redevelopment of the Post Office site down the line.
The biggest concern raised about the plan, which includes expanding the sidewalk space at intersections and at midpoints along the street, to encourage people to gather, sit and walk in the downtown, as well as create a healthier environment for trees to grow, is the net loss of about 27 parking spaces. While many of those spaces are lost due to the new design elements, a redrawing of handicap parking spaces that meet ADA requirements also contributes to a loss of some spaces.
Trustee Scott Myers, who is a member of the Task Force, reminded fellow council members that the proposed structural changes require companion policy changes as well. “We need to think about what policies we want to change that can recoup some of that parking,” he noted. Myers suggested looking at commuter parking as a possibility, where some parking spaces could become business parking.
But members of the business community who spoke at the meeting were worried about the proposed loss of parking. “What are we looking to support here? Getting them to shop or to sit around?” Vicky Hofstetter, owner of the shop Oui Madame located in the East Elm shopping district said. She urged the council to re-think the loss of 18 spaces in that area under the proposed plan. “I am astounded that anyone would consider that,” Hofstetter said.
Likewise, Stephanie Hoschschild, owner of The Bookstall, raised concerns about a loss of 19 spaces on the west side of Green Bay Road. “Please think long and hard about the parking situation,” she said.
Trustee Bob Dearborn asked whether the mid-street bump outs were necessary, given that they contributed to the loss of parking spaces. Trustee Andrew Cripe also expressed his concern about the bump outs causing loss of parking spaces directly in front of businesses.
Myers noted that the mid-street bump outs created a healthier environment for trees as well as seating, but suggested possibly delaying their construction until after One Winnetka is built. One Winnetka promises to add at least 90 new parking spaces.
Trustee Kristin Ziv raised concerns about the cost of the project, given that the village is looking at other costly projects such as a large rehabilitation of the schools that School District 36 just presented to residents in March, as well as a costly stormwater project under consideration by the village. “I think we have to be sensitive to what is going on in the rest of the village,” she said.
Myers agreed that ultimately the council would have to decide how to prioritize this project within the host of projects currently being considered. But he also noted that a downtown revitalization project has been talked about for the last 15 years without action. “To simply say we looked at it and now we aren’t going to do anything is a disservice to the village,” Myers said.
Moving forward, the Task Force will consider parking policy options to present to the village council, provide a more detailed breakdown of the costs to maximize each dollar spent, as well as options for implementing the project in smaller phases. For now, the council plans to vote on a final plan by May.
Visit www.winnetkadowntownplan.com for more details about the proposed plan.