We had 35 members and approximately 25 guests attend the meeting. Some of the guests were: Ellen Thomas, Mary and Dan Garrison, Chris and Markie Gekas, Keil Wilson, Tom Eilers, Anne Wilder, Bill Krucks, Carol Fessler, Brian Cox (Trib), Lee Jones (Trib), Terry Dayson and Elaine Fandell.
Gina did the Thought of the Day.
ANNOUNCEMENTS: Barb reminded everyone of the Kids Against Hunger event on March 12, 2006; she also announced that the Pizza for a Great Cause was scheduled for Feb. 4th from 2-8:00 where 15% of the purchases is given back to the Volunteer Center; Patti referred to the list of 10 Community Grants Recipients for 2016 which was distributed to the attendees.
HAPPY BUCKS: Robert Mardirossian contributed in recognition of a successful open house for his newly named Counseling Center of the North Shore; Rich Lalley contributed in honor of all the guests attending today’s Rotary meeting; Rhonda Miller contributed in honor of Louise Holland, a candidate for the Village Board who  presented as part of the program; Dr. John Stone contributed in honor of Bob Baker’s good efforts to make an emergency repair on a broken furnace in his office; Karen Fell gave in honor of the League of Women Voters’ scheduled debate among the Village Trustee candidates scheduled 2/21 at the Winnetka Congregational Church; and Ned Meisner gave in honoring  Presidential candidate Sanders for actually admitting he “liked” another candidate!
When asked about the Winnetka Caucus system and why they agreed to be the Caucus’ candidate Chris said that he has lived in the Village for 24 years and raised his children here. His list of Village activities includes--  Village Council (2 terms), Building Review Committee, Plan Commission, Ad Hoc Post Office Commission, and 10 years as a Soccer Coach for youngsters. He interviewed in 2013 for the Village President position, was not chosen as the Caucus candidate and narrowly lost the election running as an independent. He was invited this time by the Caucus to interview for a Village Trustee position and was slated. He felt he still could make a contribution to help run the Village.  He is supportive of the Caucus system as a fact finding process and believes it is better than any alternative. He has been through the Caucus process three times and  has not found that it had any agenda other than finding qualified candidates for very important offices.
Louise has lived in Winnetka for 45 years and mentioned that she has served two terms as a Village Trustee, two terms as Village President, chaired the Landmark Preservation Commission and  been on the Zoning Board of Appeals and Plan Commission. She stated that during her experience with the Caucus system she has never felt that it had its own agenda and that it was a very effective vetting process. She reminded the audience that on the ballot, all 6 candidates will be listed as independent candidates.
Penny started by saying that she was a Rotarian in the past before a hectic family and community schedule took up most of her time. She has served two terms as a Village Trustee; Chaired the Ad Hoc Zoning Ordinance Review Committee; was on the Plan Commission; worked on the Winnetka 2020 Comprehensive Plan; and served 8 years on the District 36 school board, serving the last 2 years as President. She has a background in public policy and served two terms on the Village Caucus Council. She believes the Caucus serves an important advisory role to the 4 boards under its jurisdiction. It does a good job in prioritizing the issues and in communicating issues to the Village residents.
STORMWATER QUESTION: Chris said that there should not have been a 16 million dollar bond issue without an approved project to execute. . The “storm water fee” is not fair, as it subjects the residents to pay a debt on a project that was not yet approved by the permitting agencies. Rather than a big comprehensive water project, the flooding problems should be approached on a local basis and undertaken on an incremental basis. There could be more consideration given to regional projects, which could be knitted together to form a comprehensive strategy. The Village needs to be very careful how it would use the remaining funds from the bond issue, as well as any reserves.  There are many projects that need to move forward, including revitalization and power grid enhancements, so the Council needs to be judicious in its use of available reserves.
Louise said that there should have been more than two meetings to discuss the bond referendum and that the Village ignored the non-advisory vote of the community. Based on her past experience in negotiating with the Union Pacific she knew this company would not want a 9’ tunnel under its tracks. The localized approach to flooding is the best way to proceed at this time.
Penny pointed out that the Village’s not-for-profit organizations need to pay the storm water fee, whereas they would not have to pay if it were part of the tax bill. She said that big restructuring projects need to be carefully planned, have the support of the community and that  they are very costly.
POST OFFICE SITE: Chris was on the Ad Hoc Post Office  Task Force in 2007 and was very satisfied with its work and recommendations that the site be a mixed-use development and keep a retail post office service. Things have changed since then, especially with the downward spiral of real estate in 2008. Fortunately a very good rental deal was negotiated with the Post Office and that property now is income producing for the Village. The Village should finalize the One Winnetka project before spending much time on the post office to better understand the market conditions and the probable success of any improvement on the site.  For now it seems prudent to clean up and re-landscape the existing property to enhance west Elm until there is a clear understanding of the community desires for the site.
Louise was also involved with the Ad Hoc Post Office Task Force in 2007 and she agreed with Chris to proceed slowly on that property. She said retail is now very “fragile” and it would be tough to rent 13,000 square feet of retail space today in the Village. She would like the Village to somehow put a walkway from the post office parking lot on to the north side of Dwyer Park.
Penny agreed with Chris and Louise on this issue, and commented that the 2007 Post Office Task Force did a “remarkable” job in studying the post office situation and coming up with its suggestions.
ONE WINNETKA: President John Thomas introduced this subject by commenting that although the Plan Commission approved the proposed project by a 8-2 vote, it was subject to 9 conditions and 3 modifications, which haven’t been met yet. The Plan Commission will be meeting on the project one more time before the issue goes to the Village Board.
Chris said that he was in the business of developing projects like this in established business districts and that the developers always ask for variations to the local zoning rules in order to build higher buildings with more units. He is very supportive of getting a deal done and hopes the developer will negotiate in good faith to bring forth needed improvements in the East Elm District. He pointed out that the proposal from New Trier Partners in 2010 made several variance requests but they had offered to provide improvements to the area which would provide about 2.1 million dollars worth of benefit to the Village.  In contrast to this, the current developers (some of whom were also involved in the New Trier Partners project) are asking for deviations and the purchase of 8000 square feet of Village property. The developer is asking the Village and its residents to contribute upwards of 6 million dollars to enhance the parking component, but it is unclear what the actual financial benefit might be at this point.  There are many questions to be answered before the Council should commit financial resources to a private development.
Louise also had several questions about the project and explained that she disagreed with the Plan Commission’s contingent vote because  she didn’t want to vote for something that needed significant changes  made to it. She is concerned that the developer is treating this like a “urban project” as opposed to modifying an area that is part of an established village. She also commented that she wasn’t impressed with the developers’ suggestion of a green roof garden since the height of the building wouldn’t permit anyone to see it except airline pilots!!
Penny said that there needs to be more work on this project and make sure it is consistent with the Winnetka 2020 Comprehensive Plan which is to guide residential and business land use decisions by the Village.
QUESTIONS FROM THE AUDIENCE:  In response to a question about the advisability of retaining another consultant (Teska) to come up with another Village revitalization program, Chris and Louise mentioned their concerns that the consultant recently retained by Council to advise on the financial aspects of One Winnetka may be slanted towards shopping center development versus “in filling” an established business area. Some of the questions and information presented thus far by Teska seem to be a rehash of past studies, and not much new was presented in the recent visioning statements.. But all candidates agreed that the Village needs to continually study, but move forward with revitalization implementation in order to keep the Village attractive and a good place to do business. There was a short discussion about improving parking around the 3 train stations in the Village. This, too, is a far more complicated issue than most people imagine and the Village will be taking a closer look at this possibility after reviewing a report that is due this coming summer.